The Senate, on Wednesday, 14 April, 2021 passed a bill seeking to establish the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA).
The passage of the bill followed the consideration of the report of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.
In his presentation, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa West), said the National Food Reserve Agency Bill seeks to develop the agricultural sector by ensuring national food security and income through marketing and storage services, as a well as address emergency food crisis.
“The time is apt to put machine 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 maintain ace of buffer stock in order to ensure price stabilization and food security, and correct problems relating to the supply of designated commodities.
Moments into the commencement of the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola objected to its consideration and passage, arguing that the National Assembly lacked the constitutional jurisdiction to establish the Agency.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, however, quizzed the lawmaker saying: “so, this aspect of food reserve, does it belong to states exclusively that we cannot legislate on it? Where is it written, what does the constitution say about this?”
Responding, 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.
“As desirable as the law may be, acting out of our jurisdiction would be acting ultra vires to the constitution if we go ahead to consider the bill.”
The Senate President, not satisfied with Ajibola’s line of argument, probed further saying, “so, since the National Assembly is co-joined with the State Legislatures n the Concurrent Legislative List, can’t we use that as a basis to legislate on Food Reserve for the Federal Government?”
The Concurrent Legislative list, the understanding clearly is that the power of the National Assembly is also circumscribed.
In his response, Ajibola while citing the provisions of Section 4(4) paragraph A, explained 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), while supporting the passage of the bill explained that the functions of the National Food Reserve Agency are within the jurisdiction of the central government as it obtains in developed countries of the world.
The lawmaker 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.
He said: “If you look at National Food Security, you cannot say a state is to provide all the food, no. It is a system designed to ensure that at all times, a country is able to guarantee that food is available in supply to members.
“If this is true, then where do you take the primary purpose of governance to mean the welfare and security of the citizens. Can you talk about security and welfare of the citizens without food?
“Today, we are having a security challenge. If you look at the North-East, the region is not able to meet the normal agricultural production cycle that we are used to that will guarantee a food reserve.”
“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.
“So, the essence of this Bill is definitely in line with our mandate, and I want to urge our colleagues that we should go ahead and do the needful.”
Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South) whilst maintaining neutrality on the bill, 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.
Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Abdullahi Adamu, however 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 Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central), while lending his voice in support of the consideration and passage of the bill said: “In addition to situations where there’s inconsistencies or conflict with the provisions of laws made by the Houses of Assembly, if the National Assembly were to move first, as is being done here now by the Committee, then the Houses of Assembly, even though they have the power provided here under the concurrent provision of the constitution, then that field is already covered.
“[And] there’s a pre-emption already, meaning they can no longer make any law with respect to this subject matter.”
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.
The Senate President while delivering his ruling said, “Distinguished Colleagues, I have listened to all the interventions and, honestly, my understanding is we can legislate.
“Even those that are suggesting that we stand this thing down until we have a clearer picture are not saying we don’t have the powers to legislate.
“Because my understanding of Concurrent Legislative List is that we can legislate with the State Legislatures. [And] I don’t see how the Constitution prevents us from legislating on food reserve in the country.
“In every country, food reserve is the business of the government at the centre. Can we really afford to just leave it to be everybody’s business?
“I don’t think we can afford to leave the food reserve issue in Nigeria to state governments, after all the state governments run to the federal government.”
Lawan added: “I am convinced that we should rather legislate to protect the country by way of ensuring that there is food reserve at any time, than allow it just open like this for anybody to just legislate at the state level, 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.
“I think the National Assembly has such powers. I think the emergency in our country requires that we do anything and everything possible to rescue and protect the lives and secure the people of this country.
“I am not a lawyer, but I believe that we should go ahead and do our legislation. If any one outside feels that the legislation is wrong, that person can go to the courts so that the legislation is nullified; and that is going to be a practice of democracy. But, I believe that Nigeria at the moment needs this kind of legislation. That is my ruling.”
The bill was, thereafter, passed after a clause-by-clause consideration.