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House Of Reps Fires At Governors Over Controversial Infectious Diseases Bill

Members of the House of Representatives are at daggers drawn with the governors of the 36 states of the federation over the lawmakers’ proposed bill on infectious diseases.
In a statement issued in Abuja, the spokesman of the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, pointedly told the governors that the House of Representatives is not an appendage of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF).

His declaration followed a communiqué reportedly issued by the NGF at the end of its virtual meeting held on Wednesday, asking the House to step down the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020, whose public hearing was already scheduled.

The governors, in a communiqué signed by the NGF Chairman and Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and made available to reporters, expressed discomfort that they were not consulted by the National Assembly on the infectious diseases bill as the leaders of the anti-COVID-19 efforts in their states.

In their own statement, however, the lawmakers told the governors to realise that the House was not legislating for their states, adding their opposition to the bill was not only misplaced but also came too late.

The House also accused the governor of Sokoto State, Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, of misleading his colleagues in the NGF because of his alleged opposition to the emergence of the Femi Gbajabiamila led leadership of the House, going by the role he played in the 2015 and 2019 elections.

Kalu said that while the lawmakers consider governors as critical stakeholders in the task of nation building, the National Assembly is not an appendage of the governors.

He told the governors to bear in mind that unlike a constitutional amendment that requires the concurrence of state assemblies, the control of infectious diseases bill does not require their approval to become law.

He stressed, however, that the governors were free to submit a memorandum to the already scheduled public hearing on infectious diseases bill.

He opposed Tambuwal’s membership of the committee set up by governors to interface with the House, saying the fact that he could not properly guide his colleagues as a former speaker is suggestive of bias on his part.

Kalu’s statement reads: “It has come to the attention of the House of Representatives that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has, through a communiqué at the end of its virtual meeting held on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, asked the House to step down the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020, whose public hearing is already scheduled.

“In the communiqué, the NGF noted that following an update from the Governor of Sokoto State and Vice Chairman of the NGF, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, on the proposed Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020 introduced by the House of Representatives, governors raised concern with the lack of consultation with state governments who are at the forefront of the epidemic.

“The NGF said it resolved that the Bill should be stepped down until an appropriate consultative process is held, including a public hearing to gather public opinion and concerns.

“Against the impression given in the NGF’s communiqué, the House has since last week resolved to subject the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill to a public hearing where Nigerians from all walks of life will have the opportunity to make their inputs towards the draft legislation.

“The NGF’s position is coming rather belatedly.

“However, the House wishes to state clearly that whilst it legislates for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including being the Parliament for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja only; the Nigeria Governors Forum is recognized by members of the House as leading lights in the task of nation building.

“It is rather surprising that the NGF, in arriving at its decision, relied on “an update from the Governor of Sokoto State,” who, apart from being a lawyer, is a former Speaker and an ex-ranking member of the House, who should know better and guide the Forum accordingly.

“We assume that his position was informed by his well-known personal and partisan opposition to the emergence of the current leadership of the House, considering his obvious stance in 2015 and 2019.

“Unlike in a constitution amendment matter where state houses of assembly have a defined constitutional role to play in effecting any review to it, bills such as the Control of Infectious Diseases are not by our constitution subject of concurrence of state houses of assembly or state governors.

“We do believe that our respected governors are aware of these lawful processes of legislation and should not be misguided by a biased position of a former speaker.

“Let it be known that the House of Representatives, and indeed the National Assembly, are independent of the control of any state governor or former Speaker, except if we want to change that now.

“Even at that, it has to be by a constitutional amendment sponsored by the citizens and not by the personal view of one governor and former speaker.

“Notwithstanding, the House expresses its readiness to work with the committee raised by the NGF to meet members of the Green Chamber on the Bill.

“Governors are our critical stakeholders in nation building, and we understand the importance of working with our governors at critical moments such as this pandemic period.

“The House also wishes to state that the NGF is free to make its position on the bill known through a memorandum during the planned public hearing or send its representative or representatives to appear in person.

“Till date, no single governor has called the Speaker or anyone in leadership to express his views. It is our belief that there are better channels of communication available to the NGF to address the leadership of the House than the pages of newspapers.

“The House is also concerned that the presence of the Sokoto State Governor in the NGF’s consultative panel may not guarantee a smooth interface, since in his capacity as a former Speaker he could not guide the Forum appropriately on the matter, and he appeared to have already taken a biased position.

“Thus, the House calls on the NGF to review the membership of the consultative committee so as to achieve the desired objectives with the unbiased members during their engagement with the leadership of the House.

“It is instructive to note that the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) in Section 60 gives the House the powers to regulate its legislative activities, and the House would not shy away from that.

“Members of the 9th Assembly are united irrespective of party affiliation and will continue to do those things that will promote good governance, unity and progress of our country.”

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