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A nonsensical piece of legislation

Published by The Nation on Sat, 25 Jan 2020

UndertowTHE pressure to justify a parliamentary seat can sometimes impel lawmakers to extravagant displays of legislative fecundity. House of Representatives member Sergius Ogun (PDP-Esan Southeast/Esan Northeast), a lawyer, is one such member. Representing his constituency a second time, after obviously serving with some noticeable distinction in his first term, Hon Ogun has sure-footedly proposed a legislation to bar public officers from overseas medical treatment without first securing the approval of the courts. It is not clear how he hopes to make it work, but he fully expects it to work once the bill has been passed. The public officers targeted by the bill include the president and governors.In his opinion, without imposing such strictures on medical treatment abroad, Nigerias healthcare facilities would remain undeveloped or obsolete. By the careful wording of the bill, an indication of his legal profundity, Hon Ogun ensures that the obstacles public officers would surmount in securing approval would be high and almost impossible to scale. His arguments are plain and easy to appreciate. Said he: If those of us who can afford, all go abroad for treatment, what will our constituents who cannot afford treatment in Nigeria or do not have access to quality medication, do' You can see it on AIT(a private television station) every time, how our constituents are always pleading for support to attend to one ailment or the other; thats AIT CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), but what are we (public office holders) doing for our people in terms of quality health care' The purpose of the Bill, is to help upgrade our hospitals to international standards, so that the billions we waste on medical tourism, will be saved and jobs can also be provided back in Nigeria.It is impossible to fault his rationale. Not only have public officers abused overseas medical treatment, they have often carried on as if Nigerias healthcare facilities do not exist, nor are they worth any serious attention. For such a critical problem, could Hon Oguns legislation hope to address the matter, let alone curb it significantly' If passed, would that piece of legislation not violate one of the cardinal principles of federalism, one that enables each state to order its affairs as it deems fit and in accordance with state laws'Entitled Public Officers International Medical Treatment Trips Regulation Bill, 2019, the proposed bill states among other provisions that: *A public officer who desires to travel abroad for medical treatment, shall apply to the Federal High Court for leave to travel abroad for medical treatment, showing cause why he/she must embark on the medical trip abroad.*The court shall grant the public officer leave to travel abroad for medical treatment, when it is satisfied that the treatment being sought by the public officer is one which cannot be gotten within Nigeria and that from the showing of the public officer he/she has the legitimate means to undergo the treatment abroad.*A public officer applying for leave to travel abroad for medical treatment, shall file a motion ex-parte, before the Federal High Court, supported by an affidavit of legitimate means, deposed to by him/her with the following exhibits: (a) A duly signed medical report (certified true copy thereof) from a public hospital recommending further treatment abroad for the applicant. (b) A duly signed referral form, showing the name of the indigenous hospital visited and the applicants treatment history. (c) Results of laboratory investigations/tests conducted on the applicant, a copy of the applicants letter of appointment, a copy of the applicants last promotion letter (if any), a copy of applicants bank statement of account, a copy of applicants current salary pay slip and a copy of applicants Asset Declaration Form submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau.As far as technical efficiency is concerned, the bill is nearly unimpeachable. Its motive and clarity of purpose are also beyond cavil. The problem, however, is its practicability in Nigerias murky and convoluted political environment. Bills that are even more precise and worthier of support have fallen on the many and monstrous guillotines erected, often deliberately and cynically, by politicians and elected parliamentarians and government officials. Even if it escapes censure, Hon Oguns sponsored bill is unlikely to escape the said ubiquitous guillotines. The bill can be circumvented, and in any case the rich and powerful will always find a way to take advantage of its loopholes, as hard as lawmakers may work to plug them. The Edo federal lawmaker surely knows that Nigerias problem is not its laws, of which there is a plethora, but the discipline to obey and respect them, and the weakness and littleness of sanctions for those who breach them. And try telling someone on his deathbed that he could not make a recourse to the best medical treatment available in any part of the world. Matters like that could be easily emotionalise, even among the poor who should benefit from the elites full compliance.The bill, according to a newspaper report, has just been slated for second reading. Will it eventually pass' The chances are slim, though not impossible. But whatever happens to the bill, it is unlikely to pass as it is currently worded. Sadly, like virtually all other issues, conflicts and disagreements in Nigeria, the bill envisions the courts as the final arbiters. A huge number of elections end up in the courts for final decision, sometimes precluding even the voters from being the final determinant of who wins and who loses. Indeed, nobody loses election fairly, partly because Nigerians have shown little administrative acumen or moral uprightness in organising their polls. With many elections ending in the courts, lawmakers should find ways of inspiring laws that do not further empower or implicate the courts in resolving simple but admittedly important matters.What is even more damning is that, given recent events and court decisions, the courts themselves have scandalously proved not to be immune to either corruption or incompetence, or both. Hon Oguns bill proposes the courts as the sole and final determinant of who qualifies for overseas medical treatment, and when. But in recent years, the executive has spectacularly suborned the judiciary to its bidding, and the courts themselves have been eagerly and embarrassingly subornative. The executive branch is of course not alone in spooking justice; the political class, almost entirely, and the rich with their benumbing sarcasm against the courts, have also found or pushed for a common ground to thwart and contort the wheels of justice. How Hon Ogun expects his bill to navigate such an adamantly hostile environment to enthrone his noble objective of rebuilding Nigerias decrepit healthcare system is hard to say.But for whatever it is worth, let the bill make its tortuous way through the labyrinthine gridlock of the National Assembly. Far less noble and relevant bills, such as the ones on hate speech and social media regulation, are also already elbowing their way through Nigerias slow legislative mill. The international medical treatment bill is, alas, in noticeably bad company, but it should do far better than its discredited wayfaring companions. It will ultimately fail of course, despite whatever good it might do to the body politic, but it will at least be worth both the effort and public money for lawmakers to sculpt what many sceptics have dismissed as a piece of nonsensical legislation than waste public time and money pandering to the obnoxious twin bills designed to castrate public speech and social media life.
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