In a landmark ruling, an Abuja Federal High Court presided over by Justice John Tsoho, last week affirmed that the right of every Nigerian child to free basic education (primary and junior secondary) is now justiciable, thus breaking the decades-old impediment to the compulsory enforcement of Section 18(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigerian (1999), which vitiates the right with the proviso: “when practicable”.
Justice Tsoho’s interpretation of the constitution followed a suit by a social rights outfit, Legal Defence and Activist Project (LEDAP), which sought to know if, by the combined effects of Section 18 (3) (a) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 2 (1) of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act, (UBE) 2004, the right to free and compulsory basic education for all Nigerian children is enforceable.
The group also wanted to know if, in the spirit of Section 13, it is compulsory for the Federal and state governments to provide free basic education for all Nigerian children and if failure to do so amounts to a breach of the constitution. Justice Tsoho relied on a Supreme Court decision in Attorney-General of Ondo State and Others versus Attorney-General of the Federation (2002) that provisions of Chapter 2 of the Constitution can be made enforceable by legislation.
According to Justice Tsoho, since the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act of the National Assembly (2004) made primary and junior secondary education free and compulsory, with precise provisions made for the method of funding by the Federal and state governments, there were no further barriers to making the right to free basic education constitutionally enforceable.
We applaud Justice Tsoho for his courageous interpretation of this law, which has given the Nigerian child legal freedom from illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, destitution and early death. Equally commendable is the catalyst role played by LEDAP. The group has removed a dubious constitutional provision that gives a noble gift to the people with the right hand and takes it away with the left.
We believe Nigeria can provide free and compulsory education for its citizens if political leadership exploits the resources of the nation as they should and deploys them transparently for the development of our society to raise the human status of the people.
With this ruling, we expect the Federal and State governments to commit more funds to the education sector. States that have been falling short of providing their matching grants to draw down the UBE fund annually provided for by the Federal Government will have no excuse not to do so from now henceforth.
All hands are required on deck to force all levels of governance to implement free and compulsory education for our children, drain the millions of our out-of-school children from the streets and give them a fighting chance in life.