The House of Representatives has rejected a bill seeking to regulate how children of public officers enroll in schools outside the shores of Nigeria. It faced stiff opposition at the second reading on Thursday.
The legislation is titled ‘A Bill for an Act to Regulate International Studies for Wards and Children of Nigerian Public Officers, to Strengthen Indigenous Institutions, Provide Efficient Educational Services for National Development; and for Related Matters.’
It was the second time within four years that the lawmakers would reject the bill sponsored by a member of the House, Sergius Ogun.
Leading the debate on the bill at the second reading, Ogun noted that the proposal would strengthen indigenous educational institutions to meet global standards; boost the economy by reducing cash flight and foreign exchange; reduce brain drain and institute good welfare conditions for indigenous academics, experts and professionals based abroad to come back home and develop their country with their skills and expertise.
The lawmaker added that it would build a better society by developing formidable educational institutions; and facilitate the realisation of the fundamental objectives and policies of state as enshrined in Chapter Two of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) Cap C23, LFN, 2004.
He said in part, “This bill is proposed against the background of fallen standards in our educational system and the need to bring the sector up to speed with global best standards. Unfortunately, as a result of the inability of the government to provide quality education in its public educational institutions, Nigerians have resorted to private schools and foreign schools for their education.
“The United Kingdom, United States of America, Ukraine, Ghana, Malaysia, Egypt, and South Africa, just to mention a few, have become choice destinations for Nigerians in search of quality education.
“The trouble with this is that most of those who patronize private-owned educational institutions or those who travel abroad to study are children and wards of Nigerian public officers. These are the officers who should take responsibility for the building of our public institutions.
“For me, this would yield a counter-product result in our drive for national development. I believe that public officers should be subjected to the utility of the public institutions which they are responsible for building and maintaining.”
The lawmaker stated that apart from the fact that a public officer who does not utilise public institutions will be indifferent about their wellbeing, there is also the worry that so much of the nation’s resources are being expended in foreign institutions.
“For instance, reports show that Ghana alone gets N160bn of Nigerian students’ funds, while the United Kingdom gets N80bn from Nigerian students. About 75,000 Nigerians are said to be studying in Ghana, paying over $1bn annually for tuition fees and upkeep.
“Most of these Nigerian foreign students are children/ward of public servants and political office holders who ostensibly cart away public funds to a private use. It is against this background that this bill is designed to; regulate this practice and position our educational system for global competitiveness,” Ogun stated.
The lawmaker also stated that the proposal was not discriminatory but regulatory, while stressing its developmental and economic benefits.
He said, “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, 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 a quality education, a nation has no future.”
However, several lawmakers criticised the bill. While some stated that the proposed restriction would infringe on the rights of the affected children, others argued that not all government officials sponsor their children’s education in foreign schools with public funds.
For instance, Chinyere Igwe stated that the proposal “offends the fundamental human right which guarantees freedom of movement.” He added, “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.”
Also, Nicholas Ossai said, “It is 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.”
Given the right of reply, Ogun faulted the arguments raised against the bill.
“My colleagues should take time to read the bill’s draft before arriving at a conclusion. What is wrong in having a regulatory authority look at this issue” ASUU is on strike while all their kids are schooling outside. A little should come down and fix our institutions. So, it is better to put it to question; I won’t step it down. Nigerians are watching you.”
The Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, who presided over the session, put the adoption of the bill for second reading to a voice vote and it was unanimously rejected.
Ogun had sponsored a similar bill in the last National Assembly.
At the second reading of the bill on December 5, 2018, the proposal suffered a setback, as it was stepped down based on warnings by members of the House.
The then Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, who noted that the bill was presented on April 11, 2017, stood down the bill based on the demand by members.
Dogara stood down the bill following the objections raised by a member, Mr Ozioma Nkem-Abonta; who was supported by the then Majority Leader (and now Speaker of the House), Mr Femi Gbajabiamila.
Dogara had sought the opinion of Gbajabiamila, who agreed with Abonta that the legislation might prevent Nigerians from exercising their rights of choice, movement, privacy, and family life, among others.
Gbajabiamila had said, “The bill, as well-intended as it is, offends in every way all the tenets of democracy particularly the freedom of choice, to assemble, movement, right to private family life and so on. I think it would be wrong for us here to be tampering with peoples’ rights.”
The Majority Leader said what Ogun failed to address was ‘good quality of education,’ stating that banning public officials from going wherever they choose to go for education was not the solution. “We can deal with (the problem of) the quality of education in many other ways,” he said.
Gbajabiamila also said some Nigerians on scholarships might study in foreign schools.