Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has restated the commitment of the National Assembly to protect society’s vulnerable.
This came as the House of Representatives Committee on Woman Affairs and Social Development, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) yesterday backed a bill seeking to establish a National Council for Public Assistance to Widows, Dependent Children and Orphans in Nigeria.
Dogara, on a different occasion, said the lower chamber would support ongoing efforts to secure not only a living wage for the Nigerian worker but to ensure that in retirement, workers are sufficiently taken care of.
Dogara, who spoke at the opening of a public hearing on six bills aimed at providing social welfare for widows, the unemployed and people with disabilities among others, commended the spirit and intendment of the proposed legislation but 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.
According to him, “As representatives of the people, we are committed to making laws that would ameliorate the sufferings of our people and create a favourable environment for 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 proclaim 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 further offered alternatives to creating new agencies, including amending acts establishing agencies in order to grant them more powers.
Dogara said: “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 said the policies and structures which cater for 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.
The Speaker also noted that challenges often differ across states, which are better able to legislate on matters unique to them.
According to him, “It is important at this stage to emphasise that Nigeria runs a constitutional democracy, consequently, no matter how lofty the above ideals may appear, the committee must proceed cautiously to make sure that we concentrate our lawmaking 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, which are issues that can only be attended to at the local level.”
But in their separate memoranda and oral presentation to the committee, the NGOs and CSOs said the proposed council would provide social protection for individuals and low income families.
They argued that the proposed council would provide the needed social security network for elderly people, orphans and dependent children in the Nigerian society.
The CSO, the Dave Omokaro Foundation, said what the proposed council seeks to achieve is to empower the vulnerable in the society especially the children.