This was even as sponsor of the bill and deputy minority of the senate, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha declared that the bill was totally misunderstood by his colleagues, “because it is not a controversial issue, but one arising from complaints by the NYSC and many stakeholders”.
Senator Bwacha, while leading debate on the general principles of the bill, explained that “it 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 do not violate the religious practices and beliefs of corps members.
The lawmaker, who represents Taraba South Senatorial District under the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, also said the objectives 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; and
He 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 address 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 One of such lapses is that the penalty for offences contained in the Act is now outdated and in need of urgent review.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, while Section 16 of the Principal Act mandates the NYSC Directorate to make regulations or bye-laws relating to discipline, exercise regimen, uniforms, welfare of corps etc.
“Uniforms and drills adopted by the Directorate has 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 Senator Suleiman Adokwe (PDP Nasarawa South) said “the amendment been suggested is not even worth the trouble.”
“This is because the power 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 they only have power to prescribe the type of uniform.
“The type of uniform is even not prescribed so we 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.
“What is needed to be done is to ensure that all the religious organization that is feeling oppressed by it should put pressure and lobby the directorate to change its dress code”, he submitted.
On his part, Senator Jeremiah Useni (PDP Plateau South) declared that there was no need for the bill.
Also, Senator Sam Egwu (PDP Ebonyi North) advised his colleagues not to waste their time on the bill that they have no constitutional right to amend.
“This is a paramilitary organistion that is the directorate of NYSC, that is why drilling and exercise is contained. We have major issues to discuss and if we want talk about NYSC not uniform that is a minute issue that we should not waste our energy on”, he said.
In his ruling, the deputy senate president, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary when the bill was being considered, said “I’m 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)”.
Consequently, majority of the senators rejected the bill through a voice vote called by the deputy senate president.
Briefing journalists later, Senator Bwacha declared that the bill was totally misunderstood by his colleagues.