Agriculture Bills: Avoiding bottlenecks in Legislative-Executive processes

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As calls in Nigeria have given premium importance to agriculture as a means to solve woes of Nigeria’s economy through diversification, the demands for  institutionalising structures to give concretised expression to the necessity has become important.

Recently, bills presented for deliberation within the architecture of the National Assembly has continued to surface. While some have passed deliberation stage for passage, some are still within the window of critical deliberation. Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, the Senate had passed a Bill to establish the National Agricultural Development Fund. The Bill was passed by the Upper Chamber after the affected Clauses were re-considered by the Committee of the Whole. The passage of the bill was sequel to the consideration of a motion for re-commital of the National Development Fund (Establishment) Bill, 2022.

In his presentation, the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, (APC, Kebbi North) Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, who sponsored the Bill recalled that both chambers of the National Assembly passed the National Development Fund (Establishment) Bill, 2022, and transmitted same to the President for assent. The Senate Leader who noted that after critical examination of the Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari, some fundamental issues which required fresh legislative actions on some Clauses were observed, explained that against the backdrop, a Technical Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives met and worked on the affected Clauses of the Bill.

Meanwhile, just as some of the Bills before the Parliament which give expression to structural demands to coordinate patterns in the sector for productivity much needed to drive the economy are nearing passage, some with structural reflections to address critical concerns still suffer tardy consideration. Recently, the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG),  pushing for the National Food Safety and Quality Bill 2019 to be passed into law by the National Assembly, had presented a case on the significance of why the Bill should be expedited, given key relativity bearing relevance to the benefit of the Country’s economy in order to stand competitive in global trade.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) NESG, Laoye Jaiyeola, at the Experts/Stakeholders Workshop organised by NESG in Abuja had submitted that if food production, processing, packaging, health, and profit-making will be harnessed, passing the Bill into law is important. According to him, changing the narratives of rejecting  Nigerian non-oil products exported abroad, would be facilitated by the Bill.

“And unfortunately, despite the work that our people put in the produces were turned back there from overseas because of the quality of our exports. What we are trying to do is to make National Assembly realise that this bill is very important. It is a national interest. We all need to work together with stakeholders to cross our Ts and dot our ‘I’s, and  let’s do it together,” he was quoted.

Provisions of the Bill as contained in  Part 5 Section 17 Sub-section(1)   states that, “Where a food or feed business operator considers or has reason to believe that a food or feed in his possession or which he has sold or consigned to another person is unsafe, he shall immediately initiate procedures to prevent the consumption of the product through recall or communication.”

Part 5 Section 17 sub-sections 4,5,6 contains that, “A food business operator responsible for retail or distribution activities which do not affect the packaging, labeling, safety or integrity of he food shall, within the limits of his respective activities, initiate procedures to recall from the market products not in compliance with food-safety requirements. Food business operators responsible for retail or distribution activities shall communicate relevant competent authority relevant information necessary to trace a food and shall cooperate with any action to recall a product from the market taken by producers, processors, manufacturers and for safety of food. A food or feed business operator shall immediately inform the relevant competent authority if he considers or has reason to believe that a food which it had placed on the market may be injurious to human health.”

Section 17 of the Bill serves a major panacea to sanitise and safeguard the health of Nigerians as it instills quality control and responsibility in the food or feed business space as it will make operators comply by prioritizing the health and safety of Nigerians when the Bill is passed into law, and also gives Nigerians the confidence to consume food from business outfits.

Section 18 of Part 5 of the proposed law intends to solve the problem of traceability, and it reads in subsections 1, 2, 3, and 4 accordingly, “Food and feed business operators shall establish measures for tracing of food-producing animals, food or feed and any other substance intended to be, or expected to be, incorporated into a food at all stages of production, processing and distribution, including packaging materials. Food or feed business operators shall put in place systems and procedures to identify any business operator; a-from whom they have received a food-producing animal, food or feed or any substance intended to be, or expected to be, incorporated into a food or feed; and b-to whom their products have been supplied. Food or feed business operators shall ensure that the information set out in sub-section (2) of this section is recorded and made available to the relevant competent authority on demand.Food or feed which is placed on the market or is likely to be placed on the market shall be labelled or otherwise identified through relevant documentation or other information to ensure its traceability.”

The Bill also made Content Inspection paramount in Section 22 subsections 1 and 2: “Inspections for official control of safety of food and feed shall include an investigation by an authorized offer into; a-the state and use which is made of the site, establishment, offices, plant surroundings, means of transport, machinery and equipment of food and feed business operators, particularly in relation to licence conditions specified under Section 15 of this Act; b-raw materials, ingredients, technology aids, and other products used for the preparation and production of food and feed; c-semi-finished food and feed; d-finished food and feed products; e-materials and articles intended to come into contact with food and feed; f-cleaning and maintenance products and processes and pesticides used by food and feed business operators in the course of their business; g-processes used for the manufacture or processing of food and feed; h-labelling and presentation of food; i-preservation methods.

“The operations enumerated in sub-section (1) of this section may, where necessary, be supplemented by: a-interviews with the food or feed business operator and with persons in the food or feed business; b- the reading of values recorded by measuring instruments installed by the undertaking; c- measurements carried out by the relevant Competent Authority, with its own instruments, or with instruments installed by the undertaking; or e-information contained in written and documentary material held by food or feed business operators.”

The Bill also pointed in Section 23 under sub-sections 1 and 2 that, “Persons who handle food, or materials which come into contact with food shall be subject to a hygiene inspection. The inspection referred to in sub-section 1 of this Section shall establish whether such persons comply with regulations concerning periodic medical examinations, technical qualification, health status, personal cleanliness and clothing.”

As observed, only structural responses to the deficits in the agriculture sector would give concerted vigour with institutionalised architectures to set the sector in tune. It is pertinent for the National Assembly to play its role diligently by giving priority to deliberations of Bills bearing relevance to the agriculture sector. Considering same as emergency may not be too far from rationality, given the debilitating impacts of worsening strains of the economy. This is particularly significant as agriculture has been seen and identified by justifiable facts as a  sector with robust potentials, through which the diversification course of the economy can be built around for structural responses to address the defecting deficits of the economy. Hence, clearing the roadmap of institutionalising frameworks for the agriculture sector from legislative bottlenecks has become paramount.

Meanwhile, just as the National Assembly has a role to play in passage of the Bills, the need for the executive bodies, bearing roots to agriculture, to expand their contributions with more creative Bills and policies to further build institutionalised framework for the agriculture sector for productivity and virility is important. This is just as submissions from private stakeholders remains significant in the drive to develop the sector.