A bill seeking to prescribe a jail term of seven years and, or a fine of N500m narrowly passed second reading at the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Sponsored by Sergius Ogun (Peoples Democratic Party/Edo), the legislation is titled ‘A Bill for an Act to Amend the National Health Act, 2014; and for Related Matters.’
Leading the debate on the bill, Ogun noted that the objective of the proposal was to amend the Act “so as to make provision for sanctions against any public officer who violates the provisions of the Act, especially Section 46 of the Act.
The section reads, ‘Without prejudice to the right of any Nigerian to seek medical check-up, investigation or treatment anywhere within and outside Nigeria, no public officer of the Government of the Federation or any part thereof shall be sponsored for medical check-up, investigation or treatment abroad at public expense except in exceptional cases on the recommendation and referral by the medical board and which recommendation and referral shall be duly approved by the Minister or Commissioner of Health of the state as the case may be.’
Ogun said, “This bill, which seeks to amend the National Health Act, is borne out of a desire to discourage medical treatment abroad at the detriment of our indigenous health institutions. The need to revamp the poor state of the health care sector in Nigeria, among other things, is the reason for introducing this bill.
“It is no news that Nigeria’s health care system is in a deplorable state and needs urgent attention. There is paucity of infrastructure, dearth of medical personnel, poor standards and many other challenges that need to be addressed. The intent of this bill is to spur public officers to pay more attention to our health care sector and take drastic steps to develop and improve on the sector.”
The lawmaker urged members of the House to look at the merits of the bill and let it pass “in the interest of our nation, which is currently going through trying times and requires drastic steps to bring it back on its footing.”
Ogun listed the merits of the bill to include reduction of the mass exodus of doctors from Nigeria to other countries.
“If this House passes this bill into law, it will curtail the excessive medical trips of public officers abroad and direct their attention to fixing the poor state of the country’s health sector. This will in turn lead to the development of the health sector, improved remuneration for medical Doctors, thus attracting Nigerian doctors abroad to come back home,” he said.
The lawmaker also noted that the bill, when passed into law, would demonstrate government’s commitment to the welfare of citizens “in the sense that funds which were hitherto expended in foreign medical trips will be redirected into building an efficient and effective health care system in the country. This will in turn positively impact the lives and wellbeing of the people.”
Ogun also cited reduction of cash flight abroad, saying, “This bill, as has been stressed above, will stop the export of cash abroad and redirect the same to the development of our economy.”
“All of this cash, which flies abroad in the disguise of one medical trip or the other, will be retained here in our country and be used to develop our nation.”
While Ogun was making his presentation, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, had interjected him, asking if the lawmaker was sure of what he was saying.
Responding, Ogun noted that the Act prohibited unapproved spending of government funds on foreign medical services, but it failed to prescribe the punishment for disobeying the law.
“I read the Act and the gazette is here. I was not in this Assembly then. It is an Act; it is a law of the land today. What I am basically doing…my amendment is saying that there should be punishment for flouting that Act, which the Act did not capture. It could be (due to) an oversight,” he stated.
The lawmaker, therefore, proposed insertion of Clause 2(2) that reads, ‘Any public officer of the Government of the Federation or any part thereof who violates the provision of Sub-section (1) above shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000,000 (five hundred million naira) or to an imprisonment term of seven years, or both.’
The proposed punishment, however, generated a noise in the chamber.
Ogun said, “Yes, I can hear my colleagues murmuring but let me just read out something.”
The lawmaker made reference to an article by the pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, titled ‘Capital Loss and Corruption: The Example of Nigeria,’ which was published by Punch Newspapers on June 30, 2009, in which the author disclosed that a former governor in Nigeria acquired four properties in London valued at £10m; had a property in Cape Town valued at $1.2m; was also found with cash of £1m in London, amongst others.
However, a member of the House, Ibrahim Isiaka (All Progressives Congress/Ogun), who had seconded the motion to consider the bill for second reading, raised a point of order to withdraw his secondment of the proposal.
“I regret to withdraw my secondment of the bill moved and being narrated by Hon Sergius Ogun. Mr Speaker should please give me that special privilege and let another person…Mr Speaker, with due respect, please…This is not that I am trying to swallow…What I have on paper is quite different from what he is postulating. Because of that, Mr Speaker, before it is thrown open for further debates or before you rule, I withdraw my secondment.”
Wase, however, ruled Isiaka out of order, noting that the rule does not allow withdrawal of secondment.
After Ogun concluded his presentation, the Deputy Speaker put passage of the bill for second reading to voice vote and it was unanimously approved.