9th Senate prioritises education in legislative agenda

President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan

The 9th Nigerian Senate, having realised that education is perhaps the most single important investment a country can make on its people and its future, has placed it on the front-burner of its 2019 legislative agenda. This became evident when it took the Nigerian education system to the cleaners recently while setting its legislative agenda.

Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, who presided over the debate on the red chamber, could not hold back his dissatisfaction with the products of Nigeria’s educational system for which he gave a damning verdict, describing graduates from the system as good for nothing. Lawan said Nigerian polytechnics, colleges of education and universities have been churning out worthless graduates that are neither productive nor ready for the challenges of the 21st-century workplace.

“Let me be a little bit specific,” he said. “Today, the education sector suffers a lot. I keep on saying the 11 or 10 million children out of school; we owe them that responsibility to do something about them.

“That is taking us back to the implementation of the Universal Basic Education Act. How do we ensure that we reduce and eventually eliminate the number of out-of-school children in our streets? But even if we needed that kind of programme, we have to do something and the government has to take responsibility, both at the state and federal levels.”

He said funds have to be created, increase the number of classrooms and employ more teachers, noting, “States cannot run away from this, but the Federal Government must provide the leadership.

“At the tertiary level, we produce graduates who have nothing to add to the development of the country. We must face the reality of making our economy work for the people. We need our graduates, both in the universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education to actually be graduates that have some functionality. Either they can engage themselves in some productive activities or when they are employed, they should be able to perform if we want our economy to function.

“Today’s economy is about what capacity your citizens have. Many countries don’t have more resources than the kind of resources we have but they have been able to develop the capacities of their people. India and China have done that.”

He challenged relevant Senate committees to interface with the relevant ministries, departments, and agencies to review the country’s educational curriculum to provide quality education to future Nigerians. He said it was important for the committees to carry out this assignment to lay bare the areas of intervention to spur the quality of education in the country.

Lawan said the modern economy is not reliant on natural resources, but the intellectual capacity of her human resource to build a stable nation and economy. Lawan’s passion and deep understanding of the importance of education as the driving force behind any technological breakthrough cannot be separated from his background as an academic and his vast experience in legislation that spans over 20 years.

However, the Senate President will have to reckon with certain anomalies among his class of politicians that easily negate his plea. In the last few months alone, his colleagues in the Senate and some governors, former governors, even the vice president and Mr. President himself have all travelled abroad to attend the graduation ceremonies of their children in well funded universities in other people’s climes while lecturers and tertiary institutions at home suffer gross neglect from these same policymakers and executioners who have willfully shirked their responsibilities to halt the education rot at home.

So perhaps, until every politician acted and behaved like Governors Aminu Masari and Nassir El-Rufai of Katsina and Kaduna States, who put some of their children in public schools, Lawan’s cry would only be an echo in the wilderness. Perhaps, he should first ask which among his colleagues in the Senate have his or her children studying abroad. The Senate might have to initiate a policy to stop public office holders from sending their wards abroad to study. That way needed funding required to lift local education would be assured.

The 9th Senate under Lawan’s leadership may have hit the ground running, having approved and adopted its Legislative Agenda aimed at strengthening parliamentary roles and practices. Legislative Agenda identifies and indicates the direction that the Senate intends to go to achieve its goals over the next four years.  

During the protracted debate, lawmakers unanimously lauded the effort of the Ad-hoc Committee for developing the Legislative Agenda, noting that the sectorial interventions highlighted in the agenda would promote effective engagement with the executive, as well as promote transparency and accountability, and serve as an effective legislative guide to the 9th Senate for the next four years.

For Lawan to single out education as the most important of the other issues on the agenda speaks volumes about how passionately the Senate wants to quickly reposition education through legislation.

However, what remains is whether the lawmakers can really walk the talk.

For instance, at the twilight of the 8th Senate, it was Lawan as a Senate leader who made a strong case for the immediate reform of the almajiri system in the North that has existed for centuries to create an opportunity for them to also acquire formal education along side it. Lawan had expressed serious concerns that if the country must fight to win the battle against crime and insurgency it must be looking at the sources of recruitment.  

According to him, “The recruits are there. Those of 17 years of age who are supposed to be in school but are roaming the streets. Even though it is controversial, a time has come in those states where almajiri is established for over 100 years to consider and see how we can work out a model that will ensure the almajiri system should not continue in the way and manner that it is today.”

He said the pupils could also acquire formal education without tampering with their religious learning, asking, “Why not provide a climate conducive for these children who roam the streets to go to formal schools without compromising their learning for religious benefit? I believe that this is going to be a major issue because we have to transform this sector if we want to ensure that these people contribute to national development and also reduce the chances and the risk of getting them recruited into insurgency and banditry.

“I believe that the time has also come to give something substantial to education, especially for the basic education and that captures from kindergarten to junior secondary school education. I have consciously decided to bring to our attention and other major stakeholders what the provisions of the Universal Basic Education Act 2004 provide for the education of our children.”

According to him, section 2 (1) of the compulsory free Universal Basic Education Act 2004 provides that every Government in Nigeria shall provide compulsory and universal basic education for any child of primary and junior secondary school. “Subsection 2 provides that every parent shall ensure that his child or ward attends and completes his primary school education and junior secondary school education by endeavoring to send the child to primary and junior secondary school.

“Section 3 provides: The stakeholders shall ensure that every parent that is taking care of a child performs his or her duty as provided under Section 2 subsection 2 of this act. 

“In fact, Subsection 4 and 5 provide for penalties for parents or guardians who refuse to send their children to school and also any government that fails to provide a learning environment.”

He pointed out that the major source of insecurity in the country at the moment was probably the neglected section of the society, particularly those that cannot go to school. 

“We have children within the age bracket of 16, 17 and 18 who, when they become adults, have been involved in insurgency and all manners of criminal activities, including armed banditry,” Lawan said, noting that it was time government walked the talk and make provision for compulsory and Universal Basic Education that it has consciously passed as legislation since 2004.

He pointed out that though the 8th Senate might be wound up, the 9th Senate owes a duty to hold a discussion as much as possible on the matter to ensure that Nigerian children are not left on the streets.

“The next National Assembly should commit itself to ensure that the basic education that is supposed to be free is implemented to the letter, because whether we like or not those who are not in school are prone to all manners of influences and even criminal activities,” he stated.

Lawan also said the Senate would carry out electoral reforms to make for the better electoral experience. He pointed out that the electoral experience in the 2019 election would provide them with enough materials to do so. He stated that a set of indicators would be developed to assess the performance of both the legislators and the various ministries of government in a bid to move the country forward.

To this end, he said the Senate would re-introduce sectorial reports which would be different from the oversight report. 

“This will be actualized by engaging ministries, departments, and agencies to know their targets for the year and provide legislative intervention to actualise them,” he said.

The agreed areas, he said, would be monitored periodically as defined by the Senate to know the level of performance of both the legislature and the executive. He said the contributions of senators during the debate showed their focus as they were in the National Assembly to make a positive difference in the lives of Nigerians to make the country better.  

Lawan said those things reflected in the agenda are those things that would create those positive changes, adding, “At the same time, the proposed agenda cannot be exhaustive. We are supposed to continue; it is a very dynamic one. Fresh challenges that would, therefore, require some interventions, whether on policies or through legislations, can be introduced.

“So this agenda will continue to be updated, where we feel that we have to add new things as society continues to develop. I also want to say that our committees would be the ones to add flesh input to this agenda.

“The task before the committees are for them to sit down and look at the challenges in the sector they oversight and come up with ideas on how the National Assembly, especially the Senate, can come up by way of legislative intervention.”

The Senate President said they would reintroduce sessional reports by committees to be laid before the Senate on what they have been able to do, adding, “That is different from oversight which can be part and parcel of the sessional reports. We are challenging our committees to go back and look at our agenda and see what is related to the area of their oversight with the objective of better legislative intervention.” 

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