A fresh move to pass a bill that will recognise the Peace Corps of Nigeria as a federal security outfit is leaping through the National Assembly, despite its rejection by President Muhammadu Buhari, two years ago.
This is even as members of the Peace Corps continue to render security services to schools, shopping malls and other private facilities in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and in some parts of the country.
With headquarters in Abuja and commands in almost all the 36 states and 180,000 volunteers who are mostly youths, the corps operates like a paramilitary organisation.
Findings by our correspondents revealed that volunteers of the corps are subjected to one month drill before they are enlisted.
Some people believe that the Peace Corps has filled a large vacuum considering that thousands of youths have found a source of livelihood through the volunteer services they offer.
However, security experts observe that while the Peace Corps is found in many countries around the world and recognised as a voluntary organisation that helps in societal harmony and peaceful coexistence, making it a statutory agency in Nigeria will be an additional burden on the federal government.
Efforts to make the 28-year-old establishment a federal security outfit suffered a setback when President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to its bill passed by the National Assembly in 2018.
In rejecting it, Buhari said there was paucity of funds to run the proposed agency. The president also identified security concerns, adding “some of the recruits may actually be sponsored by subversive elements.”
It was observed that despite Buhari’s rejection, a bill has been reintroduced at the National Assembly in a bid to get the presidential nod for legal backing for the outfit.
Also, the organisation has continued to carry out its activities in parts of the country with a visible presence of members of the corps in public facilities in FCT, Kaduna and Oyo states.
Daily Trust observed that some schools and organisations in the FCT have persons in the brown and blue beret uniform of the corps guarding their premises.
In Kaduna State, the corps has over 9,000 registered members who have continued to carry out security duties such as crowd and traffic control.
A member of the corps, Ibrahim Samaila, said their activities are strictly voluntary as they are not paid by the government or any organisation.
“We are Nigerians and we are youths, so we do this to help safeguard our communities,” he said.
Why we want Peace Corps legalised – Senator Ndume
After President Buhari rejected the bill for an act to establish the Peace Corps in February 2018, the bill was reintroduced by Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) in 2019.
Checks by Daily Trust show that the bill has passed first and second readings in the Senate.
According to the bill, the core objectives of the corps is to “develop, empower and provide gainful employment for the youth, facilitate peace, volunteerism, community services, neighbourhood watch, nation-building and related matters.”
Ndume, who is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, said that he and his colleagues in the National Assembly are pushing for the passage and assent of the Peace Corps Bill to address unemployment and security challenges bedevilling the country.
The Senator, who sponsored the Peace Corps Bill at the Senate, said the corps as an internationally recognised organisation, backed by the United Nations should be supported by all to complement the services of the Nigerian Armed Forces and other security agencies in the fight against terrorism, banditry and other crimes.
“Members of the corps can be used to maintain peace, instead of force especially during peaceful protest; it is the members of the corps that are supposed to give them cover not the police carrying AK-47. If there is an occasion like a political rally, you don’t need to deploy police but Peace Corps. Have you ever seen police in a stadium in the US?” he asked.
According to him, “It is about volunteerism, they (Peace Corps) have 180,000 youth that have registered with them voluntarily. Now there are about 5,000 soldiers in Borno and they are supposed to be in the war front. So, since there is peace in Maiduguri, members of the Peace Corps can be deployed to stabilise the capital,” he said in a phone interview.
Ndume said at both chambers of the National Assembly, there is unanimity that the bill be passed and assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari to address unemployment and insecurity in the country.
“I am not the only one that is pushing for it. In fact, many people wanted to sponsor it but we synchronised because the bill is popular. If they (my colleagues) are not in support of it, it wouldn’t have passed the third reading in the 8th Senate. And now, when I presented it again, it was unanimously supported. It is inter-agency conflicts and rivalry that stopped it before. Other security organisations, especially the police, don’t want Peace Corps. That was how we battled on the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and look at the progress they are bringing,” he said.
Corps not registered with us – NSCDC
Daily Trust reports that the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) is the agency with powers under the Private Security Guard Companies Act to register private security companies.
When contacted on the status of the Peace Corps, the Public Relations Officer of the organisation, Emmanuel Oke, said the Peace Corps has not registered with them, although it carries out functions of private security guard.
He said the non-registration of the Peace Corps might be because the corps carries out other functions that are not security-related.
“Since they are waiting for assent to their bill, that might be the reason they continue to carry out their regular duties such as volunteerism and others,” he said.
Repeated calls to the mobile phone of Force Public Relations Officer, CP Frank Mba, by one of our correspondents seeking clarification on the development, were not answered. He did not also reply a text message sent to him on the matter.
Lawyer, activists react
Experts suggest that the Peace Corps, which was registered under Part C of the Corporate Affairs Commission in May 2002, having been founded in 1998, can continue to operate like other voluntary organisations such as the Boys Scout, Man O’War, among others.
The Executive Director of Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, criticised Nigeria’s recourse to duplication of governmental agencies, which should be performed by a single agency like the Nigerian Police.
“The Nigerian Police has been the father, grandfather and great grandfather of most security agencies. You have the NDLEA, which should have been the narcotic branch of the police; the Federal Road Safety Corps, the traffic branch of the police, the EFCC and ICPC, which could have been the special fraud office of the police, you have customs, immigrations and even NAFDAC; all of these could have been under the police,” he said.
The Executive Director of Partners for Electoral Reforms, Ezenwa Nwagwu, in his response, said the country cannot all the time seek to legitimise private enterprises by appropriating public funds to them.
“I think there is something that is not sitting well on that. My position has always been that such beautiful initiatives can be run on a private basis and those who want to engage them can do so. If they want to provide enlightenment, they can do so without seeking to become another governmental agency. Those things can become like Boys’ Scout,” he said.
Also reacting, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abubakar Mahmud (SAN), said being a private organisation set up as a voluntary agency, there is no need for the government to get involved in its funding.
“Even if there is a need for it, it can continue as a private initiative. I don’t see the justification for replicating other agencies because we have enough agencies on military and others. We have the civil defence, which can basically provide these functions,” he said.
However, the Executive Director of the Citizens Advocacy for Social for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), Barr. Frank Tietie, expressed support for the Peace Corps as a job creation mechanism.
Our role is for neighbourhood watch – Founder
In his reaction, the Founder and National Commandant of the Peace Corps of Nigeria, Dickson Akoh said the corps’ role is for neighbourhood watch as the second line of public safety, and as a think tank to educate residents of communities for security.
He admitted that without the legislative approval, the corps can continue its operations, which are legally recognised by the CAC registration, adding that the corps is self-funding through membership fees, donations and fees paid by schools and corporate organisations for guard duty.
“The public needs not to be confused; like I stated, our activities, for now, is a non-governmental organisation and in line with the National Policy on Youth Development.
“As far as I am concerned, security is evolving. And as the society evolves, it throws up a lot of security challenges, especially with the high level of unemployment and high level of poverty in the land. It has complicated the security situation in our country.
“That is why we have so many cases of kidnapping because when youths are jobless, and there is no adequate arrangement made for them to be occupied, they will find solace in crime and criminality. And that is the position Nigeria finds itself today,” he said.
By Ismail Mudashir, John C. Azu, Abdullateef Salau, Idowu Isamotu (Abuja), Lami Sadiq (Kaduna), Ado A. Musa (Jos), Jeremiah Oke (Ibadan) & Hope Abah (Makurdi)