OrderPaperToday – A bill seeking establishment of the National Food Reserve Agency was passed during the plenary on Wednesday in the Senate which brushed aside concerns over possible conflict with federalism principles.
Presenting a report on the bill, Chairman Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa West) said the agency when established, will implement the overall National Food Reserve Policy to ensure a reliable supply of designated commodities in the country.
He further said that the agency would help to mitigate the crisis of the availability of agricultural produce in the country.
“The time is apt to put machinery ties in place for the development of the agricultural sector. The National Food Reserve Agency Bill is one of the tools to make this possible, especially in a period of flood, famine and other emergency situations.
“The bill recognizes the need to fill the apparent gap in Agricultural Development and coordination of programmes and projects in the country with the collaboration of National and International Agencies.
“A well-managed strategic grain reserve will stabilise staple foods prices for the benefit of consumers and farmers. Therefore, establishing an Agency for this purpose is very essential to enhance food and nutrition security”, Adamu said.
He further emphasized that, “any country seeking to diversify its economy, alleviate poverty, create jobs and ensure food security should prioritize agriculture” through the formulation of enabling laws aimed at addressing food security.
According to the lawmaker, the National Food Reserve Agency when established would, among others things, facilitate and provide guidelines for the establishment and maintenance of buffer stock in order to ensure price stabilization and food security, and correct problems relating to the supply of designated commodities.”
Before the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola (APC, Osun) objected to its consideration and passage, arguing that the National Assembly lacked the constitutional jurisdiction to establish the Agency.
Ajibola while referring to Section 4 sub-section 7 paragraph A of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) read: “The House of Assembly of a State shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the State or any part thereof with respect to the following matters, that is to say:- (a) any matter not included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.”
He argued: “So, to the extent that the issue is not on the Exclusive legislative list, and I also further my argument that paragraph H in the Concurrent legislative list does not also vest the same power expressly in the National Assembly.”
Sen. Ajibola while citing the provisions of Section 4(4) paragraph A, explained further that, “the fact that an item is listed on the concurrent legislative list does not mean that both the Federal and the State (Legislature) has the power to make law. That has always been the general understanding.”
On his part, the Deputy Whip, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger North) argued that the prevailing security challenges in several parts of the country made it expedient and imperative for the establishment of a food reserve by the Federal Government to avert crisis likely to arise from food shortages.
“The essence of this bill is to have a national framework that would ensure that we don’t allow our citizens to fall short when we have any crisis and it is definitely in line with our mandate”, Sabi stated
Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South), maintained neutrality and advised that the bill be stepped down pending when a clearer understanding is sought as to whether or not the National Assembly has the jurisdiction to legislate for the establishment of the National Food Reserve Agency.
A member of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Sam Egwu (PDP, Ebonyi North), on his part aligned his views with that of Senator Manager, and asked that the bill to be stepped down pending when further clarifications are made.
Another lawmaker, Opeyemi Bamidele, appealed that the matter be stepped down for a legislative day to allow the Committees on Agriculture and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to meet on the bill.
Responding, Sen Adamu differed with Senator Ajibola by citing the Constitutional provisions of Section 17(c), which according to him, empowers the National Assembly to legislate on the establishment of institutions.
“[So] the issue here is nobody is saying a State (Legislature) cannot make law in regard to a subject matter. But, if they do, and the law they make goes in conflict with the laws made by the National Assembly on that same subject matter, the law we make supersedes. That is the position of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, Adamu explained.
The Senate President, Ahmed Lwan, in his ruling said that he is convinced that the senate should rather legislate to protect the country by way of ensuring that there is food reserve at any time, than leave it open for any tier of government “which I’m sure will be looking up to the federal government for some kind of support and assistance.
“So, my ruling will be in consonance with our Standing Order 21, 25 (H), that I interpreted the rules or constitutional point of order our colleague raised that we don’t have such powers.
“If anyone outside feels that the legislation is wrong, that person can go to the court so that the legislation is nullified and that is one thing with the practice of democracy. But I believe that Nigerians at the moment need this kind of legislation.”
The current senate has placed emphasis on economic diversification through agriculture as reported by OrderPaper earlier.
Reporting by Blessing Ojochemeni