The Senate on Tuesday finally passed a bill to make the Nigerian Peace Corps a para-military agency.
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.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives had separately passed the bill last year.
However, after the harmonisation of the two separate bills, the Senate had, May 2, rejected the harmonised version, which has now been approved. At the time, the lawmakers who opposed the NPC, including Minority Leader Godswill Akpabio and James Manager, PDP-Delta, cited opposition from the security agencies and a litigation involving those agencies and the promoters of the peace corps.
Basically, according to the report on the bill, the corps seeks “to empower, develop and provide gainful employment for youth, to facilitate peace, volunteerism, community services and nation-building.”
With Tuesday’s development, the peace corps is now close to gaining statutory status, a stage being awaited by thousand of youths who see hope of employment there.
The bill will be sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent after the House also approves the harmonised version. The House is expected to pass the bill as it enjoys the support of majority of members including Speaker Yakubu Sahara who earlier indicated the lawmakers may consider a veto if the president refuses assent.
However, it is not clear if the presidency will approve of the bill as several departments in the executive including the police and the military are opposed to the legalisation of the Peace Corps which is currently a private NGO.
At the moment, there are suits involving the state security agencies and the commandant of the corps, Dickson Akoh.
While Mr. Akoh and other drivers of the corps were charged with allegation of running illegal paramilitary organization and “fleeced youths of their money”, he too instituted a counter litigation, seeking compensation, from the police and the State Security Service, for illegal detention.
On February 28, the Nigerian Army, police and the SSS in a coordinated mission stormed the Peace Corps’ head office in Abuja, arresting Mr. Akoh and his officials. They then shut down the Corps headquarters.
The next day, the police paraded Mr. Akoh and his officials, 49 in total, and accused them of running an outlawed organisation with intent to perpetrate fraud and jeopardise national security.
The police said a 2013 “official gazette” of the Nigerian government “dissolved and proscribed illegal security outfits” which included the Peace Corps.
According to Mr. Akoh, in his submission to the Senate, the corps came into existence in 1998 before it was formally registered as an NGO in 2005.
On the allegation of fraud and illegal recruitment, Mr. Akoh was reported by the Senate committe on legal matters to have dismissed the charges against him as baseless.
“He further submitted that the ordeal of the Peace Corps of Nigeria from security agencies, started when in recognition of its invaluable contribution to national development, the President Muhammadu invited the organisation to officially attend the Armed Forces Remembrance Day,” reported the Senate committee.
He was also reported to have admitted to collecting N40 thousand from Peace Corps members, but added that the money was utilised for provision of uniforms, medical care through out duration of training, training manual, honorarium for guest lecturers, certificate of training and ID card and accommodation for one month.
Apart from the police and the SSS, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps is also opposed to the establishment of the peace corps because, according to the Senate committee, the Directorate of Employment is already responsible for the responsibilities it (the peace corps) seeks to carry out.