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April 12, 2021

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Senate considers bill to support families of fallen servicemen/women

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A bill that seeks to establish a support fund for families of fallen servicemen has scaled second reading at the Senate.

The bill titled, ‘Families of fallen servicemen support fund bill, 2020’ is sponsored by the senator representing Benue South, Abba Moro.

The second reading of the bill comes about a month after it was introduced to the Senate.

This Bill seeks to, among other things, establish a support fund for families of selected security personnel who died either in or out of combat (this means in the course of an official assignment or not).

It also seeks to enhance the capacity of widows of fallen servicemen to act as role models to their children through guidance and counselling and public enlightenment programmes.

The agencies considered in the bill include the Army, Air Force, Navy, Police and Civil Defence Corps.

Others are Nigerian Customs, Immigration, Drug Law Enforcement Agency and the Nigerian Correctional Service.

Timely

The legislation, which many have described as timely, comes amidst lamentations of neglect from the families of fallen soldiers by security agencies.

It also comes at a time when the country is at, perhaps, the peak of her fight against insecurity and insurgency.

Some families have also decried how difficult and almost impossible it is to get the gratuity of a member who has died in active service, PREMIUM TIMES had reported.

Some provisions of the bill, however, prescribes that families of late servicemen be given financial aid ranging from N2 million to N5 million as well as counselling and mental evaluation.

This reports aims to bring to the fore, some major provisions of the bill.

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Details/major provisions of the bill

For starters, a board will be constituted to oversee the fund as well as financial and educational empowerment given to families of the fallen servicemen – which will be exempted from paying income tax on any income accruing to the Fund.

Having established the security agencies and the interpretation of “combat” and “non-combat”, the bill states that any security operative “whose body is not found after a combat operation or an attack on his contingent in which heavy fatalities were recorded would be presumed dead if his/her whereabouts remains unknown for more than three months after he went missing.”

Financial empowerment

** When any member of the named security agencies dies a combat death, the Board shall pay the spouse the sum of N5 million and shall counsel her on such entrepreneurship programmes that will enable her to invest the sum profitably for the welfare of the children left behind by the deceased.

** When any member of the named security agencies dies a non-combat death, the Board shall pay the spouse the sum of N2 million and shall counsel her on such entrepreneurship programmes that will enable her to invest the sum profitably for the welfare of the children left behind by the deceased.

Housing/educational benefits

** When any member of the named security agencies dies, whether in combat or not, the surviving children registered under the National Health Insurance Scheme shall enjoy free education from primary to tertiary institution on the bills of the Fund or on such tuition free education policy as may be declared by the Federal and State Governments for families of fallen servicemen.

** For this purpose, the Board shall verify and maintain an updated database of the surviving children registered under the National Health Insurance Scheme as forwarded from time to time by the named security agencies.

** And whenever any such child gains admission into any university or any tertiary institution of learning in the country, the institution concerned shall grant free accommodation and free tuition education status to the child upon the tendering of a Letter of Introduction from the Board.

** The Board shall pay a designated allowance to the child for every academic year until he or she graduates. And as soon as any beneficiary of this policy completes his or her compulsory National Youth Service with nothing less than Second Class Lower Division or Upper Credit for Higher National Diploma, graduates shall be given special consideration above other applicants in any employment or recruitment 17 exercise they may apply.

Objectives of the Board

The Board shall be saddled with the responsibility of receiving into a designated account and managing the monies accruing to the Fund, assisting families of fallen servicemen identify economically viable enterprises for income generation and provide technical and financial support for their implementation.

The Board shall:

** Enhance the capacity of widows of fallen servicemen to act as role models to their children through guidance, counselling and public enlightenment programmes.

** Create, arouse and sustain the interests of the Federal, State and local governments, the Nigerian public, the corporate world and the international community on the need to support families of security operatives who die in the line of duty.

** Exercise control over the management of the Fund with a view to ensuring accountability and proper utilisation of the Fund as well as liaise with Security Agencies, Ministries, Extra-Ministerial Departments, the State and local governments for necessary collaborations towards effective discharge of their duties.

** Enter into contractual agreements for the purpose of building housing and educational facilities in each state for the welfare of the widows and kids of fallen servicemen, and such other contractual agreements as may be necessary; provided that every such agreement shall contain a clause that it is subject to approval by the joint session of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and the Bureau of Public Procurement.

The Board will also allocate such houses and educational facilities built in the states to families of fallen servicemen, for their welfare and for the advancement of their education free of charge.

The Board will prepare and submit the annual expenditure and income of the Fund as well as quarterly report for approval.

Offences, punishments

** The chairman or any member of the board who violates provisions of the bill, commits an offence and shall upon conviction be liable to life imprisonment.

** The Chairman or any member of the Board who conspires with any authority or person to contravene any provisions of this Bill or any other law in relation to the Fund, commits an offence, and both the chairman or Board member shall along with that other authority or person be liable upon conviction to life imprisonment.

** Where any member of the armed forces or other security operative defects or abandons his duty post to fake his capture or death in a bid to enable his family obtain the benefits provided under this Bill, he commits an offence, and is liable upon conviction:

(i) to life imprisonment if no fatalities were recorded in the operation or combat that led to his defection, provided he was not found to be in contact with any member of his family before he was found.

(ii) to death, if fatalities were recorded in the operation that led to his defection, or if he was subsequently found to be in contact with any member of his family after his defection.

The provisions of section 416(2)(e) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act shall not apply to absolve any offender under this Bill from maximum punishment, whether or not he is a first time offender.

After it was considered and read for the second time, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Police Affairs for public hearing and further legislative work.

The committee is to report back in four weeks.

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