“The State Houses of Assembly have the powers to make laws with respect to primary education. Rather than embark on programmes which have already been embarked upon by the State governments pursuant to laws enabling them in that regard, the Federal Government should identify other ways of keying into the programs of the States. One of such ways could be an increase of funding to the State Governments to strengthen the powers of the states to make adequate provision for students in their primary schools”.
On the 3rd September, 2015, it was reported that the Federal Government had taken a decision to feed all primary school pupils across the federation. In reporting the development, the Punch Newspaper reported as follows:
“The vice president said the free feeding scheme was a core project of the Federal Government that would in turn yield about 1.14 million jobs and increase in food production…He said the government would be investing more in the people, education and job creation.Speaking on the topic “Repositioning Nigeria for Sustainable Development: From Rhetoric to Performance,” Osinbajo said that the multiplier effects of the introduction of the school feeding scheme would help to create 1.14 million new jobs; increase food production by up to 530,000 metric tonnes per annum, as well as attract fresh investments up to N980bn.He said, “One of the most important interventions required in the education sector is capacity building to improve teacher quality.“This programme is intended to drive teachers’ capacity development; boost basic education; attract talents to the teaching profession. Better educated population increases economic potential for productivity.”
Before the advent of the current administration, the last administration of President Jonathan had also announced the adoption of a similar policy. At that time it was similarly reported that:
According to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina,..“To address the problem of malnutrition among children, especially those of school age, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has proposed the introduction of school feeding as a pilot scheme in Sokoto State and the Federal Capital Territory in the 2014 budget….Adesina stated that in addition to being a major cause of mortality and morbidity among children and vulnerable women, extreme poverty and hunger are also silent mental capacity killers among children, as an underfed and malnourished child finds it much harder to learn than his well-fed counterpart.
What is clear from the above is that the government at the centre in Nigeria has in recent times, irrespective of political inclination, identified the feeding of pupils and their nourishment as a cardinal policy. These objectives are noble and commendable. However, I am more concerned with the implications of the project on the Federal Structure of government which we currently operate. I am worried that yet again, at a time when there are calls for decentralisation of governmental actions the Federal Government is about to dabble into an area which in my opinion is, with adequate planning, best suited for the state governments. I intend to discuss this with reference to the legislative competence of the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly vis-à-vis the Federal System of government which we operate.
CONCURRENT AND LEGISLATIVE LISTS
The legislative powers of the Federal Government and the States are conferred by the provisions of Sections 4 and 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. For the avoidance of doubt, the said Sections read as follows:
Section 4 (1)
The Legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly for the Federation which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives
The Legislative powers of a State of a Federation shall be vested in the House of Assembly of the State.
To avoid conflict, the Constitution also provides a list of matters over which the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly can legislate. While only the National Assembly can legislate on the 68 items contained in the exclusive legislative list found in Part 1 of the 2nd Schedule to the Constitution, both the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly can competently legislate on the 30 items contained in the concurrent legislative list found in Part 2 of the 2nd Schedule to the Constitution.
Pursuant to this Item 30 on the concurrent list provides as follows:
“Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs of this item shall be construed so as to limit the powers of a House of Assembly to make Laws for the State with respect to technical, vocational, post-primary, primary or other forms of education, including the establishment of institutions for the pursuit of such education.”
From the clear wordings of the above, the State Houses of Assembly have the powers to make laws with respect to primary education. I am aware that pursuant to these powers many state governments, including the government of the State of Osun had initiated programmes identical to that which is now proposed by the Federal Government. The administration of Engineer Segun Oni in Ekiti State also embarked on such a program. Rather than embark on programmes which have already been embarked upon by the State governments pursuant to laws enabling them in that regard, the Federal Government should identify other ways of keying into the programs of the States.
One of such ways could be an increase of funding to the State Governments to strengthen the powers of the states to make adequate provision for students in their primary schools. Afterall, one of the reasons for the creation of State is that state government will be better positioned to assess and meet the needs of the people. I do not see how easy it would be for a government sitting in Abuja to properly determine firstly the number of primary schools spread across all the states of the federation and secondly the number of pupils registered in those schools without input from the State governments. In this way, the federal government would be avoiding unnecessary litigations that may arise from different states on the powers of the federal government to make legislation on matters on the concurrent list of the constitution where there are existing laws made by states on such matter.
Finally, it is suggested that the constitution should be amended to limit the jurisdiction of the federal government to make laws for only higher institutions and exclude the federal government for making laws on primary schools.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, CON, OFR, SAN