Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The Senate wednesday opposed an amendment to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Act seeking to make putting on trousers optional, instead of compulsory, for female corps members.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (Taraba PDP) ,seeks to allow female corps members to be able to put on skirts as part of their uniform.
The 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.
This, he said, 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 urged his colleagues not to vote for the bill.
â€œIf we allow to this pass, for the sake of argument, we would soon tell the army to start wearing gowns,â€ he said.
Presiding, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said any issue with the NYSC was a constitutional amendment matter, which cannot be done with a bill.
He cited Section 9(2) of the constitution and said any such amendment has to go to the states.
The bill was defeated when it was put to voice vote.
Briefing journalists after plenary, Bwacha said the bill was misunderstood
â€œIt 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,â€ 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.
â€œIf 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,â€ 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 bedevilling Nigeria.
â€œEveryone 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.
â€œThe 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.
â€œYou donâ€™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,â€ Bwacha argued.