Senator Tijjani Kaura represents Zamfara North Federal Constituency at the 8th Senate. ABDUSSALAM AMOO recently interviewed Kaura who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on the Federal Character Commission and Intergovernmental Affairs, and Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND. He gives insight into the contributions of the 8th Senate to the education sector in Nigeria.
What are the critical steps taken so far in the 8th Senate to improve the education sector?
There are two stages. One, one of the major roles of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate is to make laws and to amend laws. If you look at most of the laws that were enacted by the National Assembly in the past are today almost obsolete. So, from time to time, the National Assembly would review all these laws that have been enacted previously and see whether there is need for amendment to make them in tandem with present realities. That is one role the National Assembly is playing.
As of today, we have amended several bills on education from the beginning of the 8th Senate and we intend to do more. Let me give you an example on our review of our laws of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). In UBEC, there is a moneybag situated in the commission meant to be distributed among state. But the law states that for a state to access such money from the federation account, that state has to pay 50% counterpart funding to that commission. With that, only few states are able to access the funds because they do not have the counterpart funding.
So, what we done at the National Assembly is to reduce counterpart funding rates, to make the states able to provide their counterpart funding. In addition, we increased the 2% that is supposed to be taken from the federation account into that account to 3% so that the funds will be more. In addition, we said that this money should be extended to secondary schools instead of it being limited to primary schools. This is a major landmark in terms of education.
Who are the critical stakeholders you are carrying along in these amendments and making of the laws? It usually turns out that implementation is a problem at the end.
You need to be familiar with the procedures of the National Assembly. If the National Assembly intends to amend or make new a bill, we first of all bring it to the floor (of the house), discuss and mention it for the first time. That is called First Reading. It is for everybody to know about that, we are going to make a bill or amend a bill. After some time, we gather back and bring it to the fore to see if it is a cause to debate within the chamber for Second Reading. The debate will be led by the sponsor of the motion or bill. That is the second stage.
The third stage is what we call public hearing. There, we invite all relevant stakeholders that have to do with that particular bill we are talking about. It is normally done in the public. Every stakeholder interested is allowed to say his mind. Whether it is an omission or a contradiction of another existing section of the constitution, it would be exposed. It is the application of the opinion of the stakeholders that will form the basis of the conclusion in terms of that particular bill before it is passed into an act.
As the chairman of the Federal Character Commission committee, you are aware that there have been concerns about appointments that have not been geopolitically balanced across the country. What oversight role are you doing in ensuring that there is federal character in appointments?
In the first place, I don’t believe that there are lopsided appointments in the federal government. The Federal Character principle is a constitutional provision. What it states is that there is need for representation of states and regions in the formation of government. In the whole public service, there are public institutions. Heads of agencies are expected to respect that principle and ensure that while employing workers into their agencies, they consider the different sections of the federation. And that is going on as perfectly as possible.
What the constitution is saying is equity, not equality. There is no way there would be equal representation everywhere but there must be equity. That is the consideration of every other section of the country so that every section will have a sense of belonging.
But when it comes to political appointments; that is a presidential prerogative. There are agencies that must be represented by some fellow from each state of the federation. I am very sure that there is no state in the federation today that is not represented by a minister in the federal cabinet. Even those statutory commissions enshrined in the constitution, there is hardly any agency or commission that is not represented by members from all the states of the federation, especially those that were specifically mentioned by the constitution.
Where do you see the future of the Nigerian education sector?
We are part of the drive to move Nigeria’s education sector from where it was 25 years ago to present day realities, so that the product of our education today can feed himself and be relevant in the society. Otherwise, that is why, today, we have so many youths that are unemployed. It is because they did not learn in the university relevant issues that will give them employment as soon as they come out. How many medical doctors do we have roaming the streets? We don’t have! How many lawyers or engineers? When you see people roaming the streets, most of them are those who did not learn relevant content in the university. That is why the issue of career guidance, guidance and counselling, lack of reassessing and reinventing our curriculum is essential for our education system to move forward.
A recent news report says that almajiri schools built by the past administration are threatened by neglect. What does the senate intend doing about that?
I read the same story you are talking about. I think the story is very recent. As the Deputy Chairman of the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions, I will raise this issue on the floor of the senate and the senate will look at what position they would take on that.