The Senate has rubbished and struck out a bill seeking to amend the National Youth Service Corps Act to allow the uniform worn by corps members to accommodate their religious belief.
If it had been passed, participants would have been allowed to wear skirt or hijab, among others. This followed the presentation of the lead debate on the general principles of the bill which was sponsored by Sen. Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP-Taraba) during plenary.
According to him, the bill is 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 offenses 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 One of such lapses is that the penalty for offences contained in the Act is now outdated and in need of urgent review.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.