By Umar Muhammad Puma
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has restated the commitment of the parliament to protecting the weak and vulnerable in the society.
Speaking at a public hearing on six bills aimed at providing social welfare for widows, the unemployed and people with disabilities, among others, Hon Dogara, commended the spirit and intendment of the proposed legislation but also advised against the creation of additional agencies which, he said, would further increase the country’s wage bill and may result in the duplication of the mandate of existing agencies.
“As Representatives of the people, we are committed in making laws that will go a long way to ameliorate the sufferings of our people and create a favourable environment for an all-inclusive development and sustainable livelihoods. We owe our people the duty and responsibility of taking care of their welfare especially when we notice a lacuna in the system.
“We must be true to the lofty ideas enshrined in the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of our Constitution which proclaims that the Security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. It further states in Section 17(2)(f) that children, young persons and the aged should be protected against any exploitation whatsoever, and against moral and material neglect.”
He highlighted alternatives to creating new agencies, such as amending acts establishing agencies in order to grant them more powers.
“We should guard against setting up a government agency under every Bill. We should not duplicate the mandate of existing agencies except where it becomes absolutely necessary to fill a void or where existing agencies are not paying enough attention to the subject matter. It may be necessary sometimes, to amend an existing Act and imbue it with additional powers than setting up a brand-new agency with its attendant costs to the treasury. On each occasion we should exercise our legislative judgment wisely in the national interest.”
He further stated that policies and structures which cater to the welfare of the less privileged are key to national development and stressed the importance of concentrating lawmaking efforts on those items contained in the exclusive legislative list. He also noted that challenges often differ across states, which are better able to legislate on matters unique to them.
“The common theme that resonates with each of these Bills we are here to discuss as stated above is the need to take care of the weak and vulnerable members of our society. The Bills touch on the welfare of the Elderly, women, children, the disabled, the sick, the unemployed, the orphaned and generally the less privileged in our society. Indeed, no nation can lay claim to civilisation and development without deliberate policies and structures to take care of the segment of society captured above.”
“It is important at this stage to emphasize that Nigeria runs a constitutional democracy and consequently, however lofty the above ideals may appear, the Committee must proceed cautiously to make sure that we concentrate our law-making efforts on matters in the Exclusive Legislative List contained in the 1999 Constitution. We should allow the State Houses of Assembly to make laws for matters in the Residual List, that is, issues that can only be attended to at the local level.
The Bills which were examined at the hearing are as follows; A Bill for an Act to Establish the National Council for Public Assistance to Widows, Dependent Children and Orphans; A Bill for an Act to Establish a Welfare Trust Fund and Management Commission for Effective Management of the Welfare of the Unemployed, People with Disability (temporal/permanent), Orphans, Widows, the Elderly and the Youths, Compensation for Citizens who are deprived of means of livelihood as a result of population, demolition, forced relocation, retirement and health, provision of medical care and subsidies for poor families and to protect the less privileged in the society;
A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Registration and Control of Orphanages and other institutions for the Boarding, care and Maintenance of orphans and deserted children; A Bill for an Act to Establish the National Social Security and Welfare Board and vest it with responsibility for the control and administration of benefits and assistance to enhance the welfare of citizens, especially disadvantaged persons, children, women, the handicapped, the sick, the aged and the unemployed;
A Bill for an Act to Regulate the Establishment, Registration, Provision and Management of Services and Residential Facilities for Elderly Persons; and A Bill for an Act to Protect the Elderly and Vulnerable Persons who lack reasonable Mental and Physical capacity to guard against financial abuse and other Related Matters.