OrderPaperToday – The Bukola Saraki-led senate had a fractious relationship with the President Muhammadu Buhari-led presidency. And the peace corps bill was one of the touch points between the duo.
In spite of the promises of the proposed legislation, the extreme positions adopted by both arms of government ensured that the bill witnessed several (sometimes repeat) legislative procedures which included passage, presidential veto, attempted override.
Now the bill has been resurrected in the 9th assembly under the Ahmad Lawan leadership which is believed to be enjoying a cordial relationship with the executive. Will this new scenario benefit the bill this time around?
Recall that on the 24th of July, 2019, the peace corps bill was recommitted in the House of Representatives and would not require second reading and public hearing but straight to a clause-by-clause deliberation by the committee of the whole to ensure quick passage.
Objectives of the bill and a long trajectory
The peace corps bill was sponsored by Senator Bayero Nafada (APC, Gombe) in the 8th assembly. A major highlight of the bill is to create employment for Nigerian youths, achieve capacity building for youth creativity and intervention, agriculture as well as peace education and conflict resolution. It will also give legal backing to the establishment of Peace Corps of Nigeria, a para-military agency.
However, there was strong opposition that trailed the bill; one of which is that the proposed agency would duplicate the functions of existing law enforcement agencies. Another was the issue of funding of the new agency at a time when there were agitations for the increment of the national minimum wage.
The bill was initially passed by the House of the Representatives on the 9th of June 2016 and in the Senate on 25th November 2016. However, after the passage of the bill by the two chambers, differences were noticed. A conference committee was set up to look into the differences and a harmonized report was adopted by the green chamber in 19 January 2017, red chamber in 25 July 2017. The clean bill was eventually transmitted to the presidency on the 2nd of January, 2018.
The bill was vetoed by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 27th of February, 2018. In his communication of denial of assent, the President raised concerns over security and financial implications despite perceptions that it will partly address the unemployment crisis in the country.
Buhari’s refusal of assent was strongly criticized by federal lawmakers who threatened to override him. The lower chamber eventually made the move on the 21st of March, 2018 when the bill was re-introduced for first reading by Emmanuel Orker-Jev (APC, Benue). However, further legislative action was hampered as the bill did not scale through second reading when it was brought up on the 24th of May, 2018.
Battle over ownership of the corps
Another controversy that trailed the bill was discordant claims over ownership. The National Commandant of the Corps, Dickson Akoh was entangled in a contention with Chinedu Nneji, Commandant General of National Unity and Peace Corps. Both men and the factions they represent separately laid claim to the bill in the National Assembly.
The matter was however laid to rest following a clarification by the Senate that it adopted the bill under the leadership of Akoh. But allegations soon surfaced that he bribed senators with 500 job slots and cash rewards for the bill to be passed. The spokesman of the corps, Millicent Umoru, however denied the allegation.
Police face-off, premise lockdown
At a time, the Headquarters of the Peace Corps in Abuja was sealed on February 28, 2017 when the Nigerian Army, police and the SSS invaded and shut down the facility while the Mr. Akoh was arrested alongside 40 other persons.
The matter soon popped up in court and two Federal High Courts ruled that the facility be unsealed and damages awarded to the Akoh-led corps. But despite the court orders, the police insisted it would keep the facility shut in the “interest of national security and public safety.”
There was also a legislative directive issued on the 9th of May 2018 by the House of Representatives to the police to vacate the premises within 21 days. Again, this was disregarded.
Instead, the police instituted a judicial action and slammed Akoh with a 90-count charge of N1.4 billion fraud. This trial was adjourned indefinitely because the police failed to comply with previous court orders.
It is against this chequered background that the bill has nor been reintroduced in the legislature. Will it be uhuru yet?