There is palpable apprehension in the National Assembly, particularly among the staff of the establishment, over possible spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, which is currently ravaging the whole world.
The Presidency has also petitioned the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, requesting him to compel legislators that returned from foreign trips recently to present themselves at the nearest Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) office for testing for Coronavirus (COVID-19).
There are indications that the two chambers of the apex legislative assembly might be shut down today, following the outbreak of the virus in the nation’s political capital, Abuja.
The anxiety at the National Assembly stemmed from the report that about 25 members of the parliamentary institution returned from the United Kingdom last week, without undergoing the required self-isolation and test.
Ten members of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream) and 15 members of the same Committee in the House of Representatives had gone to the UK for a three-day international training programme organised by Skills and Career Support Centre (SCSC).
New Telegraph learnt that the purpose of the training programme was to enrich capacity in the legislative work on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which is currently being processed for passage by the Ninth National Assembly.
It was reported that the lawmakers, some of whom their group photograph has been in circulation on social media, returned to Nigeria last week Monday, and attended plenary sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
However, when their refusal to self-isolate themselves leaked and started generating rumours and agitation within the Senate, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan had to quickly intervene, to prevail on them submit themselves for test.
Lawan had to call for a closed session on Thursday, where he advised the affected lawmakers to comply with the World Health Organisation (WHO) directive as well as the directive by the Federal Ministry of Health on the prevention and control of COVID-19.
It was learnt that at the closed session, Lawan asked senators who just returned from foreign trips to go for COVID-19 test and self-isolate themselves for 14 days before appearing in the chamber for legislative activities.
Confirming this on Thursday, spokesman for the Senate and Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Godiya Akwashiki (APC, Nasarawa North), told journalists at a news briefing after plenary, that Lawan told the senators to adhere to stipulated standard practice in the fight against the pandemic.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, in a letter dated 21st of March, 2020 addressed to the speaker, also alleged that some members of the House refused to be screened at the airport while returning from foreign trip.
He alleged that the Minister of health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, was informed of the breach in the screening process.
The letter reads: “It has been brought to the Honourable Minister of Health who recently reported to this office that some members of the House of Representatives are refusing to subject themselves to medical screening at airports.
“As you are aware, these airport screenings are our primary line of defense and refusal by any citizen to subject to these tests is a threat to our nation.
“Accordingly, you are kindly requested to direct all members of the House of Representatives who returned to Nigeria from foreign trips to turn in themselves to the nearest NCDC centre with immediate effect.”
Workers and visitors to the National Assembly were seen in clusters at the central lobby of the White House and other corners of the complex, lamenting the refusal of the lawmakers to isolate themselves or go for test for COVID-19.
Most of them lamented that the lawmakers were reckless and might probably spread the pandemic through such careless attitude to a matter of grave consequences.
“They are very wicked and reckless. They want to kill others along with themselves, otherwise, what does it cost to heed simple instruction? You know that they are money mongers; so isolating themselves for 14 days, to them, is as if they have lost their salaries and allowances for 10 years,” an official lamented.
But reacting to the allegations, House spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Kalu denied that members evaded being tested at the airport, even as he urged his colleagues to submit themselves for screening and testing.
Kalu said: “First, I have received a lot of enquiries as regards this particular memo, though we have not confirmed the authenticity of where that memo originates from as an official document. But if we look beyond that, at the content of the memo, no matter where it originated from, it is pointing to the fact that this particular virus is no respecter of persons, no respecter of any social status or political status.
“If there is a particular equipment at the airport to help do screening of those who are coming into the country at the airport, even if it is domestic flight, Nigerians should make use of it.
“There is this argument that the people that were accused of not making use of it were not members of the House, so I believe they are not members of the house because I doubt if any honourable member of the house would pass through that place without being checked because it is just one minute, two minutes, I have passed through that severally.
“But if there is anyone who went through there without submitting himself for all this all-important check, then it is wrong, it is unpatriotic, it is not good for our nation because health is important if not to you, to all Nigerians you will come in contact with.
“So let us forget about where the message came from, let us forget where the memo originated from, the most important thing is, the content of this memo is raising the consciousness that Nigerians should submit themselves, no matter who you are, to the people that are doing the screening at the airport and this screening should go beyond the airport.
“Wherever there is a screening machine, if you are passing through it, it is expected that you submit yourself to be screened. There is nothing belittling there and it doesn’t waste time. So if actually it came from the presidency, I commend the writer of the memo, if it is the chief of staff, if it was the SGF, it shows that they are interested and conscious of every step.
“He that alleges must prove. I am sure the camera must have captured the person rejecting to be screened and this should be made public, if there is something like that. But I seriously doubt that any member would pass through the airport and refuse to submit himself for screening.”
Meanwhile, there were speculations at the National Assembly complex yesterday, that the leadership might close for Easter holiday today as result of the tension already created within the establishment.
Although there was no official confirmation of this rumour, sources close to the leadership of the apex assembly told our correspondent that closing down the place today would be a wise and most likely action of leadership.