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Nigeria: Senate passes national health bill, amidst protest

Nigerian Senate President David MarkNigerian Senate President David Mark (Photo: Nigerian National Assembly)
May 20, 2011

Following mounted pressure on the National Assembly by pressure groups, the Nigerian Senate has finally passed the National Health Bill.

Senate President, David Mark, however warned after the passage that the upper chamber of the National Assembly did not pass the bill, as a result of the protest mounted by pressure group mainly made of women at the assembly.

“It is an important bill, it is true that it has taken a while but we were able to pass it because anything that has to with health has to pass through rigorous scrutiny,” said Mark, adding that the Senators passed the bill not because of protests on Wednesday.

“We were only doing our work. The bill was slated in the order paper yesterday when they were protesting,” he stressed.

Presenting the conference committee report on a Bill for and Act to provide a framework for the regulation, development and management of a National Health System and set standards for rendering health service in the federation and other matters connected therewith, 2011 before the Senate, the Senate Committee Chairman on Health, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello (PDP Ogun Central) said that the delay of the passage was as a result of some technical problems.

According to Obasanjo-Bello, “following differences in the two versions of the bill as passed by the two Houses of the National Assembly, a conference committee was constituted in the Senate on 7 May, 2009 and House on 28 May, 2009 to harmonize the differences.

“The bill was thereafter passed in identical form by both Houses and transmitted to the Clerk of the National assembly for further action. This was not to be, as the Legal Department returned it (Bill) for what they considered to be enactment problem.”

Meanwhile, over a thousand protesters including members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), women groups and civil society organizations (CSOs) and youths on Wednesday staged a peaceful protest against the non-passage of the National Health Bill, seven years after its presentation to the National Assembly.

Some of the placards displayed by the protesters read: “241,000 new born die yearly;” “Stop the death, We are tired of losing children, act now;” “lack of health bill=shame of a  nation;” “Life Expectancy: Nigeria – 42 years, Ghana – 60 years”; among others.

While speaking on the need for the protest, Dan Gana, former NMA President who led the protesters to the National Assembly complex, in a letter presented to the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives noted that the bill was presented to the National Assembly in 2003 and represented in 2007.

While lamenting on the inordinate attitude of the lawmakers to the plight of over 150 million Nigerians especially the poor, Gana said “with one million children and 545,000 Nigerians dying annually from poor national health system and services, Nigeria has lost 7 million children and 3.8 million mothers since the bill has been lying at the National Assembly for seven years (2004 to 2011).”

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