The House of Representatives has rejected a bill seeking to make the provision of basic welfare compulsory.
The bill, sponsored by Sergius Ogun (PDP, Edo), sought to amend section 6 of the 1999 Constitution by allowing the judiciary to entertain cases on the provision of basic welfare as contained in sections 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21.
The existing section 6(6c) provides that “the judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section shall not, except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act or omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity or otherwise with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution.”
In his lead debate, Mr Ogun argued that section six already ousted the judiciary from inquiring into compliance with chapter two by the government.
Thus, the bill by Mr Sergius sought to amend section 6(6c) by providing the judiciary the powers to entertain cases on the failure of government to provide shelter, free education and others as provided in chapter two of the Constitution.
Citing section 16(2d), which provides that— “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring – that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national living minimum wage, old age care and pensions, unemployment and sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for” as an example, Mr Ogun said as laudable as the section is, it is not justiciable.
He noted that “the amendment when passed into law will enable the courts of law in Nigeria to hear and determine questions as to whether the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy are being adhered to or otherwise.”
Speaking against the bill, the Chief Whip, Muhammed Monguno (APC, Borno), said the bill will be difficult to implement.
He noted that it will bring chaos and anarchy if allowed to pass. He said no state can implement chapter two of the constitution.
Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta) urged his colleagues to allow the bill to proceed to committee stage, where the committee can listen to experts on the bill.
Also opposing the bill, Herman Hembe (APC, Benue) described the bill as a socialist tool that can destroy a nation. He noted that such “freebies” led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and turned Venezuela into a poor country.
“If you make it justiciable, you will allow citizens to sue governors or president for not giving him money? Money that he has not worked for. In the US, you cannot sue the government for not giving you freebies. As fantastic as they seem, they should remain in fantasy,” Mr Hembe said.
While exercising his right to reply, Mr Ogun said allowing citizens to sue does not mean they will get whatever they are asking for. He noted that the amendment would allow for accountability.
Before putting the motion to question, the presiding officer, Idris Wase (APC, Plateau) said there is no point wasting legislative time if the law will not guarantee judgement at the court.
Subsequently, Mr Wase put the bill to question, and the “nays” had it. He also put it a second time, the “nays” had it again.