By Cecilia Ijuo
The Senate on Tuesday stood down deliberation on the Conference Report on the Nigerian Peace Corps Establishment etc Bill, 2017 over concern of allegations against the corps.
Allegation of fraud had been made against the corps which had been in existence as a voluntary organisation for over 20 years.
The Upper Chamber mandated its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to take a look at the concerns being raised by security agencies on the matter and report back to it in two weeks.
Lawmakers, who made contributions at plenary, said though the bill had been passed in both chambers of the National Assembly, it was important for the senate to look into the matter to know whether to adopt it or not.
Deputy President of the Senate, Mr Ike Ekweremadu, called for caution, saying that there were allegations of fraud levelled against the organisation.
“I am aware the person behind Peace Corps has a running battle with the Federal Government. Just recently he was arraigned on a 90-count charge.
“We also heard that some of the applicants were charged N40, 000 but did not get the job.
“So, we should not be seen to be in support of what is regarded as fraud. I think the committee on judiciary should be mandated to take a look at the matter.’’
Sen. James Manager (PDP-Delta) said that in view of the allegations of fraud against the organisation already in public domain and in court, the senate should not be seen as meddling into the matter.
According to him, rather than adopt the report, lawmakers should be given the opportunity to discuss the issue and know whether to proceed with the Bill or not.
“I don’t think all is well. We are supposed to discuss what is happening before considering the report,’’ Manager said.
However, the Chairman of the Conference Committee on the Bill, Sen. Bayero Nafada, said that there was no doubt that the matter was in court, but that it would not interfere with senate’s duty.
He reminded the lawmakers that there was an issue of forgery allegation against Saraki but that it did not stop him from sitting as President of the Senate.
“The issue is not about the Federal Government. The Police was against the passage of the Civil Defence Bill but it was passed.
“So, as long as the Police are there it may not want the bill to see the light of day.
“If we give it a legal backing, some of these issues will be handled within the framework of the law establishing them,’’ Nafada said.
Supporting the bill, Sen. John Enoh (PDP-Cross River) said in view of the fact that all procedures were followed, including public hearing, where relevant issues were tackled, it was important to adopt the report.
He said “I don’t think the senate passing this law means we are endorsing illegality. Our passing this bill will rather give the organization a legal status.
“We will not be taking a good decision by stepping this down.’’
In his remarks, President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, said that the case was in court was not an issue.
While agreeing that there were grey areas that needed clarification, Saraki said “we are not stepping it down because of the court but the committee should look at the issue and report back to us in two weeks’’.
The conference report was billed to harmonise the Nigerian Peace Corps Bill passed in the House of Representatives on June 23, 2015 and in the Senate on Nov. 24, 2016.
The bill seeks to transform the Peace Corps of Nigeria into a statutory non-arms-bearing uniform youth organisation.
It also seeks to train and equip youth with knowledge for peace education, conflict mediation, intervention, reconciliation and confidence building.
In the process, it will empower, develop and provide gainful employment for youths.