Mr. President – Please don’t sign the Health Bill

Several page ads have been appearing in Nigerian newspapers asking President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria to quickly sign the health bill, and inviting Nigerians to join the ‘protest’ by sending SMS to a particular number.  Very few Nigerians know the actual content of the said bill so I asked a friend who is a lawyer to contribute this guest post to explain:

Hear him:

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  1. Section 51(1 & 2) enables the Minister of Health to play God, with unbridled powers to grant life and death to human embryos, harvest human egg and sperm and even do business with them! Simply, the section is aimed at legalizing the manipulation, aggression and violence against Nigerian children, embryos, and zygotes. A mere written permission from the Health Minister is all that is required for any person to have full legal backing to manipulate any genetic materials, including genetic material of human gametes, zygotes or embryos, import and export human embryos, as well as conduct any experimentation for human cloning and other purposes.
  1. It is evident that section 51 grants unquestioned and unaccountable powers to the Minister of health. Through his written permission, he allows whomsoever he wishes to engage in any activity such as nuclear transfer, embryo splitting for the purposes of the reproductive cloning of a human being. These are activities that are morally and socially objectionable and a cause of serious conflict and regulation in developed countries.
  1. The Health bill empowers the Health Minister, through his written permission, (with or without the non binding recommendation of National Ethics Research Committee), to grant a license to any person or group of persons to import or export Nigerian human zygotes or embryos to foreign countries for whatever purposes including cloning (therapeutic or otherwise), sale or as a gift to communities in countries with restrictive laws against such practices.
  1. Introducing section 51 through the back door is treacherous and lacking in respect for the life of Nigerians and human society
  1. The National Health Bill passed by the old National Assembly is not the people’s Health Bill.  It lacked the people’s will and input. It was a contraption of a few Senators who were @#!*% -bent on making their authority felt and imposing a National Health Bill on the people of Nigeria. In other words, the various professional bodies, the stakeholders and the Nigerian people did not have a hand in the making of the Health Bill. In a constitutional democracy such as ours, sovereignty resides with the people. Usually before passing a very sensitive and important Bill such as a National Health Bill into law, the National Assembly ought to have organized a well-advertised Public Hearing to elicit the commentary of the public on the Bill
 
  1. The various health professional bodies and stakeholders in Nigeria including the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Health Workers Association of Nigeria, and the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) are vehemently opposed to the Bill because it failed to protect their respective interests. The implication of this is that the National Health Bill passed by the old National Assembly was not the people’s Health Bill.  It lacked the people’s will and input. It was a contraption of a few Senators who were @#!*% -bent on making their authority felt and imposing a National Health Bill on the people of Nigeria. In other words, the various professional bodies, the stakeholders and the Nigerian people did not have a hand in the making of the Health Bill.
THE WAY OUT
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1.    The new National Assembly should review the 2008 National Health Bill passed by the old National Assembly. After the review, it should invite all stakeholders including the NMA, Health Association Workers of Nigeria the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), religious and traditional rulers to a Public Hearing to discuss the Bill. And the views collated from such Public Hearing should form the content of a new National Health Bill.
2.    Mr. President is perfectly justified in withholding his assent to the National Health Bill. Mr. President should ignore Prof. Chukwu’s call for him to sign the Bill. Agreed, Nigeria urgently needs a National Health Bill. But such Bill must not be a perverse Health Bill. It must be a people-centered Health Bill capable of solving the primary health needs of the country.
 
3.    We need a National Health Bill that would focus primarily on improving the primary health care delivery in the country, not one that would turn the Minister of Health into a demi-god to be worshipped by all and sundry
 
NO TO OBNOXIOUS HEALTH BILL
 
In the last two weeks, some persons have been carrying out a sustained press campaign to get President Goodluck Jonathan to assent to the National Health Bill.
It will be recalled that shortly before the expiration of its lifespan in May 2011, the former National Assembly passed the National Health Bill into law. By virtue of section 58 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, where a bill passed by the two Houses of the National Assembly is presented to the President for his assent, he shall within thirty days signify whether or not he assents to the Bill. But if he withholds his assent and the Bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the Bill becomes law without presidential assent.
In May 2011, the National Health Bill was presented to the President,  but the President did not assent to the Bill within the aforesaid constitutional time- frame. It is also common knowledge that the National Assembly has not mustered the two-thirds majority to override the President’s assent and pass the Bill. Therefore the press campaign compelling the President to sign the Bill is completely uncalled for. Nobody can compel the President through press campaign to sign a Bill which he doesn’t want to sign.
Most important, section 51(1 & 2) of the National Health Bill empowers the Minister of Health (with or without the non binding recommendation of National Ethics Research Committee), to grant a license to any person or group of persons to engage in trafficking in human embryo and human tissues. Specifically, the Bill empowers the Minister to grant licence to anybody to import or export Nigerian human zygotes or embryos to foreign countries for whatever purposes including cloning (therapeutic or otherwise), sale or as a gift to communities in countries with restrictive laws against such practices.
This is completely unacceptable. Nobody disputes that the country needs a sound National Health System. In fact, considering the alarming appalling Primary Health Care System in the country leading to the untimely death of many Nigerian women and children; the country’s National Health System is overdue for complete overhaul. But such an overhaul should not warrant the legalization of trafficking in human embryo and human tissues. Trafficking in human tissues is legally, morally and socially prohibited in Nigeria and the entire civilized world. Therefore the National Health Bill awaiting President’s Goodluck signature is an obnoxious Bill not worth signing.
Besides, the National Health Bill has been trailed by wide-raging controversies since 2002. It is obvious that the Bill is not the people’s Bill: it was a contraption of a few Senators who were @#!*% -bent on imposing a National Health Bill on the people of Nigeria. The various health professional bodies and stakeholders in Nigeria especially the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and Health Workers Association of Nigeria are vehemently opposed to the Bill because they feel that it does not protect the respective interests of their members. During the Yar’Adua administration, the Bill was tabled for the signature of President Yar’Adua but he refused to sign it due to the great opposition against the Bill.
In a constitutional democracy such as ours, sovereignty resides with the people. Therefore before passing a very sensitive and important Bill such as a National Health Bill into law, the National Assembly ought to have organized a well-advertised Public Hearing to elicit the commentary of the public on the Bill. The National Health Bills of the United States, South Africa and other countries were not hatched in secrecy: they were hatched in transparency, openness and frankness.
Consequently, we urge President Jonathan to continue to withhold his assent to the controversial National Health Bill. We call for a new National Health Bill. The new National Assembly should review the controversial Health Bill passed by the old National Assembly. After the review, it should invite all medical professional groups and  stakeholders in Nigeria to discuss the Bill at a well-advertised Public Hearing. The public  views collated from the proposed Public Hearing should form the content of a new National Health Bill.

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