The Senate on Wednesday rejected a bill proposing the option of wearing of skirts by female members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
This followed the presentation of the lead debate on the general principles of the bill which was sponsored by Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP-Taraba) during plenary.
According to him, the bill was intended to amend Sections 13 and 16 of the Principal Act.
He said the bill sought to ensure that regulations made by the NYSC Directorate prescribing uniforms and exercise regimen did not violate the religious practices and beliefs of corps members.
He said the objective of the bill was to also increase the penalty for the offences contained in the act, to make such fines reflect the present value of the naira.
Bwacha, who is deputy minority leader, noted that the NYSC was a laudable scheme established in 1973 by the then military Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon.
“It was part of the effort by the Federal Government to rebuild, reconstruct and reconcile Nigerians following the unfortunate incidents of the civil war which ended in 1970.
“It is important to point out that while the scheme has lived up to expectation as a reliable platform for nurturing young patriotic Nigerians, fostering unity and promoting a better understanding of our religious and cultural differences, it has, however, become necessary to amend the Principal Act.
“This is with a view to addressing observed lapses and shortcomings. One of such lapses is that the penalty for offences contained in the Act is now out-dated and in need of urgent review.
“Secondly, Section 16 of the Principal Act mandates the NYSC Directorate to make regulations or by-laws relating to discipline, exercise regimen, uniforms, welfare of corps etc.
“Uniforms and drills adopted by the Directorate have become a basis for tension and controversy between the Directorate and corps members and other members of the public.
“The major bone of contention is that some of the uniforms and drills contravene religious beliefs and practices of corps members and invariably their right to freedom of religion, thought and conscience under the Nigerian Constitution.
“This bill essentially addresses the above mentioned lapses in the Principal Act,” he said.
Contributing, Sen. Suleiman Adokwe (PDP-Nasarawa), said “the amendment being suggested is not even worth the trouble”.
“This is because the powers to prescribe uniform is what the NYSC Act is to the Directorate.
“I believe if the directorate wants to change the uniform at any time, it is a matter of deciding because it only has power to prescribe the type of uniform.
“The type of uniform is even not prescribed; so I don’t know why we should trouble ourselves; all you need to do is to put pressure on the directorate to change the uniform but not necessarily to change the law.
“All the religious organisations that are feeling oppressed by it should put pressure and lobby the directorate to change its dress code,” Adokwe said.
Similarly, Sen. Sam Egwu (PDP-Ebonyi) said “we should not waste our time on an issue that we have no constitutional right to amend. That is a minute issue that we should not waste our energy on.”
Also, Sen. Jeremiah Useni (PDP-Plateau) “there is no need for this bill”.
In his remarks, the Deputy President of the Senate, Mr Ike Ekweremadu who presided over the proceedings, said: “I am not trying to stop the bill; even if you pass the bill, you must send it to all the states in accordance with section 9(2).”
After a voice vote by Ekweremadu, the bill was rejected by the lawmakers.