Majority of Nigerians who partook in an opinion poll have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Peace Corps bill.
The bill, which is intended to make the Peace Corps a paramilitary agency, suffered many setbacks before it was passed at the National Assembly and presented to the president for assent.
The Peace Corps is currently a private non-governmental organisation.
In the poll conducted by PREMIUM TIMES, 75.3 per cent of the 8,501 participants want the president to sign the bill into law.
The Senate adopted the conference report on the bill to establish the Nigerian Peace Corps, after it was so advised by its committee on judiciary, human rights and legal matters and both the Senate and the House of Representatives had separately passed the bill last year.
The online poll lasted about a week. It was conducted in a way that made it impossible for a respondent to vote more than once from the same computer or mobile device.
The participants were asked a single question: “Should Buhari sign the Peace Corps bill?”
While 75.3 per cent of the respondents (6,398) said Mr. Buhari should sign the bill, 24.7 per cent (2,103 respondents), said he should not.
WHAT THE BILL IS ABOUT
If signed into law, the Peace Corps bill, according to the National Commandant of the organisation, Dickson Akoh, will create employment for Nigerian youth, achieve capacity building for youth creativity and intervention, capacity building for youth development and empowerment in agriculture as well as peace education and conflict resolution.
Mr. Akoh further explained that when signed into law, the Nigerian Peace Corps (Establishment) Bill 2017, will give legal backing to the establishment of Peace Corps of Nigeria.
It will also allow all serving members of the Peace Corps of Nigeria, both regular and volunteers, to be absorbed into the Nigerian Peace Corps at commencement.
While sponsoring the bill in the Senate, Bayero Nafada (APC, Gombe) said it is meant to empower and provide employment for the youth, facilitate peace, volunteerism, community service as well as nation building.
MANY OPPOSE THE BILL
Prior to its passage, several controversies trailed the bill, including allegations of extortion of applicants by Mr. Akoh. Many also believe the proposed functions of a government-owned Peace Corps are already being handled by other government agencies. Creating a new bureaucracy and agency at a time the government is barely able to meet its wage bills has also been faulted by critics of the bill.
A majority of government agencies expressed strong opposition to the creation of the organisation at public hearings held by the National Assembly during consideration for the bill.
At a House committee hearing, the Office of the Head of Service said several government agencies with similar mandates as Peace Corps already exist and listed the Ministry of Youth Development; Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity; and Ministry of Environment as examples.
Existing law enforcement agencies and the Ministry of Education, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, National Orientation Agency, National Poverty Eradication Programme and, National Directorate of Employment are also already performing the roles the Peace Corps is hoping to perform, the head of service, Winifred Oyo-Ita, said.
The Head of Service consequently urged lawmakers to consider “the implications of the proposed creation of Nigerian Peace Corps on the cost of governance and duplication of duties of existing agencies.”
Also, in March 2017, Mr. Akoh was served a 90-count criminal charge over alleged recruitment and extortion of applicants to the tune of N1.4 billion.
He was arrested alongside 46 members of his organisation and paraded by the police in Abuja on allegations that they were operating illegally.
Mr. Akoh and members of the organisation were accused of converting money derived directly from extortion, transferring money derived directly from extortion, obtaining money by false pretence and laundering of funds obtained through unlawful activity.
Other allegations are organising and training of members of Peace Corps of Nigeria as a quasi-military organisation, wearing of uniforms, unauthorised display of flags, operating as a private guard without license and other identification marks.
HISTORY OF ATTACKS ON AKOH
Law enforcement agencies have taken measures against the Peace Corps since at least 2003 when the State Security Service arrested Mr. Akoh and shut down his offices across the country.
He resumed operation in 2007. But when the SSS clamped down on his organisation again, he launched a civil lawsuit which has dragged since then.
Mr. Akoh was detained at least twice by the police last year. Armed officers from police, SSS and the Nigerian Army stormed the head office of the Peace Corps and took Mr. Akoh and more than 40 others into custody and shut down the head office.
Mr. Akoh, who denied all the allegations against him and the organisation, has since been granted bail.
The Federal High Court in Abuja subsequently ordered the Nigeria Police to unseal the headquarters of the Peace Corps and pay it N12.5 million as damages.
The payment is yet to be made.
WILL BUHARI SIGN?
The Senate passed the Peace Corps bill on November 25, 2016, shortly after the House of Representatives passed its own version. A conference committee of both chambers was inaugurated on December 8, 2016, to harmonise the bill.
The House of Representatives laid and adopted its conference report on January 19, 2017, while the Senate adopted its report on July 25, 2017.
President Buhari’s aide, Ita Enang, last week confirmed that the bill had been sent to the president for assent. Mr. Buhari is yet to speak on the bill and has given no indication whether he will sign or veto it.