There was heated debate and sharp division in the Senate yesterday, following consideration of a bill seeking to protect and preserve donkeys from extinction in Nigeria. The disagreement among Senators was provoked by a debate on the legality or otherwise of the power of the Senate to legislate on animals, animal husbandry and livestock. The bill was sponsored by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (APC, Kebbi North), which seeks for an Act to regulate the slaughter of donkeys and establish the breeding and ranching of donkeys through the export certification value chain to mitigate the extinction of donkeys. Arguments against the bill started immediately when the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, called on the Senate Leader to make his presentation on the lead debate.
The Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South), immediately raised a constitutional point of order against the presentation. Abaribe cited relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to kick against the bill, arguing that animals, animal husbandry and livestock were not part of the 68 items on the exclusive list which could be legislated upon by the Senate. He argued that legislating on the bill, would invariably make the Senate go against the laws of the land by dabbling into issues that are on the residual list of the constitution, meant for legislative actions of state House of Assembly and Local Government Councils.
He said: “Section 4(4a) of the Constitution says the National Assembly shall legislate on: any matter in the Concurrent Legislative List set out in the first column of Part II of the Second Schedule to this Constitution to the extent prescribed in the second column opposite thereto “Part 17-20 of the Second Schedule 17.
The National Assembly may make laws for the Federation or any part thereof with respect to (a.) the health, safety and welfare of persons employed to work in factories, offices or other premises or in inter-State transportation and commerce including the training, supervision and qualification of such persons; (b) the regulation of ownership and control of business enterprises throughout the Federation for the purpose of promoting, encouraging or facilitating such ownership and control by citizens of Nigeria”.
However, in a counter argument, Senator Aliyu Sabi (APC, Niger North), said that since the Constitution empowered the Federal Government to carry out research on agriculture generally, the Senate could legislate on the matter contained in the bill, particularly in preventing extinction of donkeys. Contributing, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun Central), faulted Sabi’s argument, saying that the constitutional point of order raised against the bill by the Minority leader was in order . The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, however, ruled Abaribe out of order, insisting that as the presiding officer of the Chamber, he has the power to interpret and decide on the matter discretionally. Senators Ibrahim Gobir (APC, Sokoto East), Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi Central) and Ajayi Boroffice (APC, Ondo North), in their contributions, supported the bill. The Senate later passed it for Second Reading, mandating its Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources to carry out more legislative work on the bill and report back in two weeks.