From Fred Itua, Abuja
A fierce debate on whether or not the National Assembly has the constitutional powers to legislate on matters in the concurrent legislative list came up yesterday on the floor of the Senate. Lawmakers engaged over the desirability of enacting a new law to establish the National Food Reserve Agency.
While the need for having a National Food Reserve Agency was not so much in conflict, the bone of contention tilted more to the legality or otherwise of their planned actions.
A constitutional Point of Order by Ajibola Bashiru, set the argument and counter-arguments in motion, when he told the Senate not to proceed any further on the bill as it lacked the constitutional powers to legislate on the matter contained in the Concurrent list.
Agriculture is one of the items listed on the Concurrent Legislative List in the Nigerian Constitution which ordinarily suggests that both the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly can legislate on it.
Quoting copiously from relevant Sections of the Constitution, Bashiru who incidentally is a trained lawyer, argued that the mere fact that Agriculture is listed on the Concurrent list does not in any way means that the Senate has jurisdiction over this particular matter.
He said the matter at hand which has to do with the establishment of an agency is outside the areas listed in the concurrent list the Senate can legislate on.
Bashiru’s interpretation was immediately attacked from many fronts beginning with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Abdullahi Adamu, explaining that the Food Reserve Agency will help Nigeria solve the problem of food security in the country and that it was desirable for Nigeria to have such agency in place.
Adamu enjoyed support from Adamu Aliero, and Aliyu Sabi who shared similar sentiments about the need to establish the National Food Reserve Agency to attend to the needs of the people especially during emergencies.
However, their arguments were not backed by relevant sections of the law. James Manager and Opeyemi Bamidele said the position canvassed by Bashiru was formidable and cannot be wished away based on sentiments or emotions.
This was as Sam Egwu, urged the Senate to exercise caution on the matter and seek the technical advice of its agency, the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), to enable it make informed decision on the matter.
The Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege who himself a lawyer was not left out of the heated argument, when he explained that using the “the Doctrine of Covering the Field”, the Senate has the power to legislate on the matter having taken the initiative from the States.
In his contribution, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan supported the opinion that the Senate had the powers to legislate on the issue and should continue with its legislative action on the bill.
Lawan advised those who think otherwise to approach the court for proper interpretation before handing over the plenary to his deputy, Omo-Agege who eventually hit the gavel to approve and pass the bill to establish the National Food Reserve Agency at third time.
The National Food Reserve Agency Bill consists of 34 clauses with the very first clause generating all the arguments.