The Senate on Wednesday declined to effect an amendment to the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, Act, seeking to make putting on of Khaki trousers optional, instead of compulsory, for female corps members.
The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, Taraba PDP and sought to allow female corps members to be able to put on skirts as part of their uniform, bill failed to pass through second reading.
Bwacha argued that some of the uniforms and exercise regime violate the religious practices and beliefs of corps members, and violate the right of freedom of religion, thought and conscience guaranteed by the constitution.
He pointed out that this had become a basis for tension and controversy between the NYSC Directorate and corps members and members of the public.
Several lawmakers, however, argued against the bill, warning about the effect on other paramilitary and military agencies.
Senator Sam Egwu (Ebonyi-PDP) urged his colleagues not to vote for the bill.
“If we allow to this pass, for the sake of argument, we would soon tell the army to start wearing gowns,” he said.
In his contribution to the debate on the amendment, Barau Jibrin (Kano-APC) argued for the amendment to stand in conformity with various religions in the country.
“People of this country are either Christians, Muslims or traditionalists and we have our values. It appears the mode of dressing of NYSC contravenes this very important aspect of our religion. The amendment is simple. We should make it in tandem with our values, culture and religion,” he said.
Abubakar Kyari (Borno-APC) also agreed with this position, saying that the amendment conforms with the awareness of Nigerians which have evolved since establishment of NYSC.
“I know NYSC has been around for over 40 years but awareness also changes. People are now more aware of the cultural and religious belief now than before and I believe the mode of dressing should reflect this.”
The bill was defeated when it was put to voice vote.
Briefing journalists after plenary, Bwacha said the bill was misunderstood.
“It has nothing to with Christianity or Islam, we discussed extensively with Senator Yerima (Sani) of Zamfara, and Senator Aliero Adamu, and myself who is a Christian, and we agreed that a lady can be allowed to put on a skirt even during drills, if it does not inconvenience her,” he said.
He disclosed his intention to reach out to the directorate to allow corps members who feel it runs contrary to their beliefs.
Bwacha also dispelled the domino effect, saying to join the armed forces is voluntary.
“If you feel the military conflicts your faith, you would not join it, she would either work in a bank or elsewhere. The NYSC is mandatory. Even in the military, they are allowed to wear skirts,” he said.
He claimed that several female corps members had chosen to drop out of compulsory youth service rather than contradict their faith, which affect their chances of employment.
The senator also disagreed that his bill was ill-timed, when considering the issues of insecurity bedeviling Nigeria.
“Everyone knows my position on that: My state (Taraba) is one of the worst hit. Are you saying we should stop discussing other issues, and only discuss insecurity whose solution we have not found? I have not hidden my position, I do not grandstand.
“The alternative is for the NYSC to allow corps members who do not want to wear trousers, to sew skirts, to cover the trousers, not expose their feminine physique. They can wear skirts and still go for drills, it can work.
“You don’t expose the feminine physique, you know the attitude with lust, if I see a lady with trousers and look at her buttocks standing like this (gesticulates), you begin to lust after her, this is true. So people are saying it is not good,” Bwacha argued.