By Chijioke okoronkwo
The recent decline by President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Peace Corps of Nigeria Establishment Bill has continued to elicit impassioned reactions.
It has, no doubt, become one of the dominant themes in national discourse lately.
Buhari had, in a recent letter read by Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives, cited “scare government resources’’ and duplication of duties currently being performed by extant security and law enforcement agencies as his reasons for rejecting the bill.
The president’s stance has attracted a flurry of appeals by Nigerians, especially youths, urging the president to revisit the bill. It has also attracted commendations.
For the sake of hindsight, the bill was passed in the House of Representatives in June 2016; and passed in the Senate November same year.
The two chambers thereafter set up a conference committee to reconcile the areas of differences in the bill.
In July 2017, the lawmakers adopted the report of the Senate and the House of Representatives’ Conference Committee, which was presented by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior, Bayero Nafada.
Thus, the clean copy of the bill, marked ‘Nigerian Peace Corps Establishment Bill 2017’ was transmitted to the Presidency in December 2017.
Startled by the president’s decision to withhold assent, Senate said it might evoke the relevant constitutional powers vis a vis the bill.
This followed the adoption of a Point of Order raised by Sen. Dino Melaye during plenary.
Relying on the Senate rules, Melaye urged the Senate to revisit the bill with a view to vetoing the president if he failed to rescind his decision.
Melaye said that the bill should be given priority by Buhari.
“The same thing happened when the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) was to be established; there was also the same complaint that there was no money and all of that.
“But today we can see the advantages of the civil defence and how they have helped in safeguarding the government infrastructure.
“About 5.5 billion dollars was borrowed from euro bond; what part of it will the youths of this country benefit from.
“About one billion dollars is to be spent on security and how does this affect the youth of this country.
“Without fear or favour, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in 16 years, borrowed N6 trillion and this government in three years, has borrowed N11 trillion but there is no specific programme that will empower the youth.
“Also, N500 billion was earmarked for the social investment programme of the Federal Government but we have not seen any impact.
“If the Peace Corps is given an opportunity to exist, thousands will be employed and this will help to fight unemployment in this country.
“We may need to write Mr president to review his position if not we have the power on behalf of the Nigerian youths who voted us to veto him so that people will become the ultimate beneficiaries of this bill.
“The youth of this country must be given priority and they must be respected,’’ Melaye said.
Lending their voice, Kano youths under the aegis of Kano Youths for Change Initiative (KYCI) appealed to Buhari to reconsider his decision on the Peace Corps Bill.
KYCI’s, Convener, Zaharadeen Ahmed, said the youths were surprised that the president declined assent to such youth-oriented bill.
Ahmed said he was imagining what would become of the huge number of youths who had received distinctive training for various national engagements by the Nigeria Peace Corps.
“The thoughts of having these huge numbers thrown back to the streets to idle away are better imagined than felt as it is said that “an idle mind, is the devil’s workshop.
“We make bold to ask our father, Mr President, what do we then expect from these youths other than increase in organized crimes and other mischievous activities leading to social vices?
“It is in this light that we wish to appeal to the president to give cogent attention to any programme or ideas that are set to productively improve the degrading state of the army of unemployed youths in the country.
“One of such programme or idea is the yet-to-be-born Peace Corps of Nigeria. We call on Buhari to rescind his decision and assent to the Peace Corps Establishment Bill for the sake of our teeming youths lessening away in jails over avoidable crimes committed out of pure idleness.”
He said the Peace Corps was not a security outfit as alleged by other security agencies but a core advocacy and technical support agency meant to provide legitimate supportive skills for our youths as a proactive instrument for growth and development tool.
Ahmed said that the corps could be a sublime panacea against communal, inter-ethnic, cult-related crisis through intelligence gathering from social events, schools, markets among others to extant security agencies.
“We appeal to our president once again to recall the bill and append his esteemed signature to the Peace Corps Establishment Bill.
“We believe this will serve as one of the most effective, and by and large, a viable avenue for job creation and nation building as he promised Nigerians during the electioneering campaign before the 2015 general elections.
“If this is done, Kano State and her youths will continue to support President Buhari’s aspirations and efforts of the APC-led government to put Nigeria on the right paths with sincere hope that this when keyed into will go a long way in serving as a potent campaign gimmick in the forthcoming general elections,’’ he said
Sharing similar sentiments, the African Youth Support Centre (AYSC) urged Buhari to make a U-turn on the bill.
The AYSC Director, Ben Duntoye, said that the news of rejection of the bill came as a shock.
“Having served as two time President of the Nigerian Youth and former President of the Pan African Youth Union, which is the umbrella body for all African Youth, I make bold to assert that there is need for positive engagement of the Nigerian Youth.
“The need to engage Nigerian youth into patriotic, developmental and economically viable ventures through various platforms is most imperative and can never be over-emphasised, of which the Nigerian Peace Corps as proposed in the Bill remains one of the most practicable concepts ever conceived towards youth development and empowerment in Nigeria.”
Duntoye said that a critical look at the document showed that the Nigerian Peace Corps, as proposed, was designed to be a vehicle for mass mobilisation and engagement of the Nigerian youths into regimental community development services and hoc interventions.
He listed such ad hoc interventions as National Clean up Exercise, Population Census, Voters Registration and Elections, Maintenance of Peace and Order in Schools and Public Places and general Neighbourhood Services, which is an existing gap in our National Development efforts.
The director said that going by the foregoing, talking about overlap of responsibility with any existing structure was totally out of place.
“The national outburst of jubilation across the country that followed the news of the passage of the Bill by both Chambers of the National Assembly was a clear and good testimony that the NPC Bill was both people oriented and commanded the general goodwill of well-meaning Nigerians and the masses.”
According to him, the NPC can be established without full salary, but sustainable subvention till the nation’s economy improves.
He said that with proper legislative backing, the outfit could, on its own, source financial support from the Organised Private Sector and Development Partners, and be useful in nation building, without stringent financial burden on government purse.
“We call on Buhari to quickly reconsider and retract his position on this matter.’’ he said.
More so, the forum of Youths National Presidents of Ethnic Nationalities in Nasarawa state has called on the members of the National Assembly to override Buhari veto to sign the Peace Corps establishment bill, 2017 into law in order to reduce youths restiveness in the country.
Barr.Auna Iliya, the Coordinator of the forum, said that overriding presidential veto on the bill would go a long way in creating job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths as well as promote peaceful co-existence in the country.
“We wish to join millions of Nigerians in expressing our opinion and stand on the matter.
“The Peace Corps of Nigeria is the organisation that, if approved will among others, address unemployment challenge and reduce the rate of criminality in the country, hence should not be thrown out just like that,’’ he said.
Nonetheless, Buhari has also received the backing of some Nigerians in his decision to withhold assent to bill.
The Conference of Nigeria Political Party (CNPP), Edo Chapter, said that the rejection of the bill was a welcome development and right step in the right direction.
He said that assenting to bill was a mere duplication of mandate of security agencies in the country, adding that the issue should not be politicised
“As it were, we already have several security agencies whose function or mandates overlap; creating another one in the name of creating employment will create chaos in the system.
“This is why the Edo CNPP wishes to commend the President for such bold step and futuristic evaluation of the situation.
“However, to fight unemployment, we believe that qualified members of Peace Corps can be recruited into sister agencies like police and civil defense.
“Edo CNPP strongly believed that the rejection of Peace Corp bill was done in good fate for the betterment of Nigeria and Nigerians.
“Therefore, we call on Nigerians and affected members of the public, particularly members of the corps, not to view it as hatred or lack of concern by the president but accept the decision without disappointment.
“Research conducted by us shown that Nigerians are happy with the rejection, but call on Mr President to prevail on the sister agencies to recruit them accordingly.
“Too many security agencies will give room for lack of proper coordination and clashes within security arrangement.
“Finally, Edo CNPP urges PMB to maintain his stand in spite of the open shows of opposition demonstrated so far by some persons without considering the financial implications.”
By most accounts, perceptive observers are of the view that the pros of the Peace Corps far outweigh its cons; hence the need for the president to make a volte face.