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By Chuks Okocha
Year 2016 will go down in history as the year that the Senate passed legislations that would positively impact on the lives and welfare of Nigerians, especially youths and the physically challenged persons. From the Nigerian Peace Corps bill to the amendment of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the legislation against discrimination against the physically challenged persons, the Senate came out as a group of elected representatives with listening ear to plights of the people they represent.
For instance, with recent statistical data showing that the average rate of unemployment in Nigeria is now 24 percent in the second quarter of 2016, the passage of the Nigerian Peace Corps establishment bill by the 8th Senate could not have come at a better time.
The Nigerian Peace Corps Bill that scaled Third Reading in the Senate and is currently awaiting concurrence by the House of Representatives was principally targeted at curbing youth unemployment, and helping to render community services and other civic duties in the country.
According to the sponsors of the bill, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume and Senator Binta Masi Garba, it is structured to address unemployment especially among the youths that constitute about 70 percent of the population. In addition to this, the Peace Corps Bill has other necessary components like the promotion of civic engagement, volunteerism, community services and nation building across.
The Peace Corps Bill first came to the National Assembly in the 7th Assembly. However, it was frustrated. But, on Thursday 24th November 2016, it was read for the third time and passed by the Senate, under the leadership of Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who stated that the Bill will allow for a more coordinated and efficient response to many of the pervasive issues confronting the country.
Presenting the report of the Committee to the Senate at the Plenary, Senator Bayero Nafada said that of the 237 memoranda received by the committee when it conducted a public hearing on the bill in April, 219 were in support, while Fourteen (14) objected to the establishment of the Corps. The implication is that the bill has a wide acceptance.
Nafada further highlighted that the Ministry of Interior, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Nigerian Police and the Department of State Services (DSS) in their presentations did not support the establishment of either the Nigerian Peace Corps or National Unity and Peace Corps.
He told the senate at the plenary that the Senate Committee agreed to merge the two bills sponsored by Ndume and Binta Garba respectively, since the two bills were basically the same, stating therefore that the merged bills shall be known as “Nigerian Peace Corps Bill, 2016.”
Giving further details on the Bill, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior said that the Head of the Corps will be a Commandant General with six (6) deputy Commandants-General and Six (6) Assistant Commandants-General drawn from the Six (6) geo-political zones which should reflect the Federal Character principle; and the Corps should be domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Interior.
Speaking after the Bill’s clause-by-clause passage at the Senate Plenary, Saraki expressed his pleasure that his colleagues allow the bill to proceed to the third reading — saying that the Nigerian Peace Corps would have a stronger framework for addressing the rising unemployment in the country by providing job opportunities for the youth,
The Senate President further stated that the Bill will also facilitate the training of youths to advance the course of peace building and conflict resolution through education, mediation and arbitration among warring groups or communities, whenever and wherever there is crisis in the country.
Saraki went on to say that the bill would not have come at a better time than now when the country is witnessing strife in some parts of the country due to the prolonged Boko Haram and Niger Delta militancy. He further stated that the Corps has been functioning for some time without legal backing, adding that now that it is recognized, it will go a long way in institutionalising peace in the country.
In his contributions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu said the Bill would create job opportunities and help in augmenting the efforts of security agencies. In the same vein, Senator Sabi Abdullahi argued that in tackling security issues, there is the need to use multiple approaches, hence the need for the bill. “We need to allow more participation in the security space,’’ he said.
Another interesting piece of legislation that portrayed the 8th senate as not only compassionate but possessing the capacity to always positively respond to the plights of Nigerians is the passage of a bill aimed at ending the discrimination faced by Nigerians with physical disability.
Before proceeding on break, after completing it’s mandatory 180 legislative sitting, the Senate on Wednesday, 13th July 2016 passed the bill on Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill. The Bill sponsored by Senator Francis Alimikhena was presented for first and second reading in October and December, 2015 respectively.
The Bill seeks to provide social protection to persons with disabilities and provide safeguards against any discrimination they may suffer in the course of their daily life. It also establishes a National Commission that will ensure that their right to education, healthcare and other social and economic rights contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) are guaranteed.
Commenting before he hit the gavel signifying that the bill had scaled the third reading, Saraki observed that the Bill failed to secure Presidential Assent after its passage in the 6th and 7th Assembly. He however expressed his desire to see that the Bill was quickly passed into law by the current administration. Already, a similar version of the Disability Bill has been passed by the House of Representatives.. What is outstanding now is for both chambers of the National Assembly to harmonise the Bills before it is sent to the President for assent.
In the same line, the Senate also demonstrated compassion when it passed into law the legislation that would guarantee the validity scores recorded by any candidate in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination for three academic sessions. This will save parents and students the cost of paying for the examinations every year even after scoring the requisite mark but unable to secure admission due to shortage of space in the institutions.
The Senate has ordered the discontinuation of the Post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (Post-UTME) by the Universities. The examination was declared illegal and unconstitutional.
Deliberating on the report by the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND presented by its chairman, Senator Barau Jibrin on the Bill for an Act to amend the JAMB Act and other matters connected thereof, 2016( SB.245), the senators amended subsection (a) of section 5 to read as follows: ” 5(b) the Matriculations Examinations conducted by the Board shall be the sole examinations required for admission and entry into all Universities, Polytechnics (by whatever name called) and Colleges of Education (by whatever name called), to the exclusion of any other institution or body.
The Committee in considering the Bill, made reference to Votes and Proceedings and Verbatim reports of Wednesday 2nd March 2016, particularly to the contributions of Members regarding the financial hardship experienced yearly by parents/guardians in sponsoring candidates for JAMB examination.
On the three year validity of the result, the report stated in Section 6 that (i) “any examination conducted by the Board pursuant to the powers conferred by this Act shall be valid for a period of three academic years from the date of the examination”.
No doubt, this amendment to the JAMB Establishment Act is a welcome relief to many students and parents, as many of them have to repeatedly pay through their nose the examination fees even when their wards secure the cut off marks but are not offered admission.
• Okocha is Special Assistant to the Senate on Print Media