Nigerian lawmakers reject bill to regulate foreign education for public officers’ children

The bill seeks to make it mandatory for public officers to secure the approval of the Minister of Education before sending their children or wards to foreign schools.

The House of Representatives has again rejected a bill to prohibit public officials from sending their children and wards to schools abroad without approval of Minister of Education.

Sergius Ogun (PDP, Ogun), the sponsor of the bill , had introduced a similar bill in the 8th Assembly, but the lawmakers rejected the bill.

He also sponsored a bill to make it mandatory for public officials to get medical care in Nigerian hospitals. This bill was equally rejected by the lawmakers at the time, citing breach of fundamental rights.

The bill by Mr Ogun proposed that a public officer can only send his/her children or wards to foreign schools after approval of the Minister of Education. It also requires that the officers must provide proof of ability to pay the school fees of his/her wards.

This bill is coming on the heels of yet another shutdown of federal universities occasioned by strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the 2009 agreements.

Highlights of the bill

Section 4 of the rejected bill provides that “a public officer shall not send his ward or children oversea for studies without declaration of interest subject to approval.”

Section 6 of the bill provides the steps for getting approval. It said, “A public officer declaring interest in sending his ward or child abroad for further studies shall submit the following documents for consideration:

(a) A complete form stating the name and address of the public officer, the name and age of the child or ward, his level of education, name of intended school abroad, duration of study, and number of children studying abroad;

(b) Letter of appointment

(c) Bank statement of account

d) Salary pay slip

(e) Declaration of assets form; and

(f) Sworn affidavit stating that he is financially capable of sponsoring his education.

Section 7 says (1) The minister shall conduct investigation to verify the authenticity of the documents submitted for approval

Section 9 of the bill provides a fine of N1 million or three years imprisonment for breach of the law.

The debate

Leading the debate on the bill, Mr Ogun drew a nexus between the dilapidating facilities in public schools and thirst for foreign schools.

He argued that the bill has the capacity to address the resources allocation to the public schools.

“The trouble with this is that most of those who patronize private owned educational institutions or those that travel abroad to study are children and wards of Nigerian public officers. These are the officers who should take responsibility for building our public institutions,” the lawmaker said.

He raised the concern on the outflow of scare foreign resources to finance these expenditures. The lawmaker noted that over N1 billion goes into the economy of Ghana from Nigeria.

Chiyere Igwe (PDP, Rivers), while opposing the bill, said the content of it offends the spirit of the 1999 constitution which grants every Nigerian the right to move anywhere.

He stated that the Code of Conduct Act is sufficient to determine if a public officer has the means to send his/her wards to schools abroad.

“As far as I am concerned, this bill offends the fundamental human rights of Nigerians, which guarantee freedom of movements. The constitution gives you absolute rights to move about. So, by this bill, you are offending the constitution, hence, it is null and void.

“The public officers that send their wards to schools, not all of them are in control of public funds. I stand as Chiyere Igwe, and I can say that I do not control public. If I send my children to school abroad, have I done any wrong?

He added that “By the Code of Conduct Act, you are only allowed to farm, with this bill, you are infringing on the constitution.”

Leke Abejide (ADC, Kogi) also spoke against the bill on the basis of the 1999 constitution. He argued that many have had their wards in such schools before being elected.

“He should step down this bill. It is against my right. Most of us, before getting here, we have our children schooling abroad. So it is not because we are public officers, we should not send our children abroad. If you say because I am now a member of the House of Representatives, I should go and withdraw my children, from where they are schooling, when we all agree that the schools are not in order.

Other who spoke against the bill were Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta) and the Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu).

While exercising his right of reply, Mr Ogun, who was visibly displeased with his fellow lawmakers, urged them to read the bill properly to understand the content of the bill. He noted that regulation is needed to address the challenges facing public education in Nigeria.

He was, however, cautioned by the presiding officer, Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase (APC, Plateau), who asked him to watch his language on the floor of the House.

When the bill was put to vote, members overwhelmingly rejected it.

SOURCE: PREMIUM TIMES

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