…reject bill to repeal NSIA act, transfer assets to finance ministry
By Levinus Nwabughiogu, Abuja
A bill seeking to regulate international studies for the children of public officials and strengthen educational institutions in Nigeria has been rejected by members of the House of Representatives.
The members said the bill was an affront to their fundamental human rights.
But the bill sponsored by Hon. Sergius Ogun representing Esan North-East federal constituency of Edo was ultimately seeking to stop public officials from diverting public funds to their children’s education abroad.
Titled “A Bill for an Act to Regulate International Studies for Wards and Children of Nigerians Public Officers, So as to Strengthen Indigenous Institutions to Provide Efficient Educational Service for National Development”, it was roundly debated although it was eventually rejected when put to voice vote.
In his lead debate on the general principle of the bill, Ogun said the objectives of the bill included strengthening indigenous educational institutions to meet global standards; boosting the economy by reducing cash flight and foreign exchange; reducing brain drain and instituting good welfare conditions for indigenous academics, experts and professionals based abroad to come back home and develop their country with their skills and expertise; building a better society by developing formidable educational institutions and facilitating the realization of the fundamental objectives and policies of state enshrined in Chapter two of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended).
He said: “The bill does not prevent public officers or private citizens from sending their children/wards for studies abroad, it only seeks to ensure that a public officer who desires to send his/her child/ward abroad, does not divert public funds to so do. Thus, such a public servant must first show that he/she has the legitimate means to sponsor his/her child/ward on such foreign education trips.
“The bill will help in fostering the development of our educational institutions as it will instil accountability and seriousness into public servants at all levels who are saddled with the responsibility of implementing the policies and programmes of government.
“The bill when enacted will help to redirect the huge funds that fly out to other countries, into the relevant sectors of our economy. It will bring about better facilities in our national life.
Policy Implementation: This bill when passed into law will foster the fight against corruption which is one of the cardinal policies of this current administration.
“This bill when passed into law will engender the actualization of the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, to which Nigeria is a party. Article 5 of the Convention provides that; “Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability”.
“This bill when passed into law will foster the realization of the directive principle of state policy contained in chapter two of the Constitution which provides that;
“(1) Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. (2) Government shall promote science and technology (3) Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide:
(a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c) free university education; and (d) free adult literacy programme”.
“This bill does not infringe on the right to family and private life as well as other fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. The bill only seeks to regulate the practice of public servants sending their children/wards abroad for studies, while neglecting the development of our indigenous educational institutions.
“The fact that there is no similar legislation in other jurisdictions does not obviate us (Lawmakers) of the duty to make laws to address peculiar challenges that bedevil us as a nation and correct ills when they exist, as required of us, by section 88(2) of the Constitution (Supra). For instance, the Republic of China introduced the “one-child birth” policy in late 1970, so as to reduce the massive growth rate in China’s population, which the Chinese government thought to be too high.
The policy helped to cut down the population. In a report credited to the Chinese government, it was stated that an estimated 400 million births were prevented by the policy. This bill is an example of such drastic policies required to tackle national problems. Also, the absence of similar legislation in other climes, only shows that they have built their educational institutions to a point of global admiration and have thus become educational tourism destinations for underdeveloped nations.
“Mr Speaker, Honourable Colleagues, as I speak now, students of Nigerian Universities are sitting at home doing nothing, due to the strike action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in protest against poor remuneration, poor infrastructure and poor conditions of service, under-funding of universities, delay in the payment of the elongated salary structure amongst others. These and other sundry issues will be addressed when this bill is passed into law and its provisions properly implemented. We may not be able to quantify the worth of quality education in terms of its impact on the individual, family and nation. But there is no gainsaying the fact that without quality education, a nation has no future.”
But speaking against the bill, some lawmakers said they had the right to train their children anywhere without using public funds.
One of the lawmakers was Hon. Chinyere Igwe (PDP, Rivers).
He said “It offends fundamental human rights which guarantees freedom of movement. Most public officers that send their children to school abroad don’t do that with public funds. I also don’t agree that is the reason the educational system in Nigeria is failing. I urge him to withdraw the Bill”.
Corroborating Igwe’s position, Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta), said it was against the constitution.
“It’s against the constitution in terms of discrimination. My children have the right to be educated anywhere in the world. The bill should not see the light of the day. He should just step it down”, he said.
The bill when put to voice was killed by the majority of the House members who shouted no to its passage for second reading.
Similarly, the House also rejected another Bill for an Act to Repeal the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority Act and Transfer the Assets and
Liabilities to the Ministry of Finance Incorporated; and for Related Matters sponsored by Hon. Oluwole Oke (PDP, Osun).
Debating the general principle of the bill, Oke said that the body as established does not conform with the spirit of section 162 of the Constitution.
“One of our decisions in 2011 is to set up a body called the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority to among other things manage, save resources for Nigerians. Some of these functions are already been performed by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Aside from that, the point I’m making today, which I want the parliament to look at, is whether this decision of ours to set up this body conforms with section 162 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“One of the windows which the parliament can correct itself is to repeal or amend an existing Act. And that’s why I’m here today. I want us to read section 162 of the constitution, vis a vis the Act we passed to set up this body.
“So, my prayer is that this bill is allowed to scale through second reading so that we can carry out a very comprehensive work, invite members of the public to speak on whether this body doesn’t contravene section 162 of the constitution”, he said.
But in their contributions, the lawmakers became divided with some speaking for and against the bills.
For instance, Hon. Jimoh Abdulrahim Olajide said “It’s necessary to repeal and amend accordingly, we are repealing to make the transfer of this funds from this authority to finance incorporated. It’s very important by law.”
Also, Hon. Akin Alabi said “The bill is straightforward, personally I’m always in support of anything that will reduce the cost of governance. There’s no doubt that different agencies are doing the same job. It should be read a second time, go for a public hearing so we can see what the public and stakeholders say. Then we know if it’s going forward or if it will be killed
Similarly, Hon. Henry Nwawuba said “I want to state on record that there’s a benefit of having a Sovereign Wealth Fund; must have been the reason Nigeria decided to save for rainy day. It should be taken into consideration as we debate on this. We should look at merits and demerits”.
Speaking against the bill, Hon. Ayokunle Isiaka said “I’m against this Bill. The little that I know, the sovereign investment fund was a creation of this parliament to serve some peculiar purposes. The question is the purpose being met or not? Instead of us getting hurry to repeal and merge them with another ministry.”
Also Hon. Lynda Ikpeazu added “The sponsor made a reference to section 162 of the constitution. But when you look at 162(3,4), you will find out that this parliament set up this fund. Now that’s not to say we can’t repeal, but what I’m saying is that it doesn’t offend it. It’s important for us to look at the intendment behind actually making that law, and understand why it was set up in the first place then we make a decision.”
Hon. Chris Azubogu in his contribution asked the sponsor to withdraw the bill.
“I appeal with the sponsor Hon. Oke, it is in the greater interest of the nation so we don’t project and portray Nigerians in a light that’s not acceptable internationally. Sovereign Wealth Fund as an institution has been involved in sourcing funds globally and a lot of people have had some trust to do business with Nigeria based on that. Let us step down this bill do further consultation, engage. The agency does not do proper reports to National Assembly, going forward we will give them chance to come and explain to us what they are doing. If there are things we need to amend in the Act to make them more responsible to National Assembly we will do that than repealing it”, he said.
The bill was eventually rejected when put to vote.