Some federal lawmakers have disagreed over the rejection of the Peace Corps Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The veto by the president had caused a stir not just among the lawmakers but also among Nigerians, especially those in support of the bill.
The president last week declined to sign into law the Nigerian Peace Corps (Establishment) Bill passed by the National Assembly late 2017.
In a letter read by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Mr. Buhari cited security concerns and financial implications among reasons for his decision to withhold his assent to the bill.
A few days ago, the spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Abdulrazak Namdas, said the House has decided to override the president’s veto.
He told journalists at the National Assembly that apart from the widely anticipated Peace Corps bill, the House will commence the process of overriding the president’s veto on nine other bills.
Prior to the announcement, a senator, Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), urged the upper legislative chamber to revisit the bill with a view to override the President’s decision.
“We may need to write Mr. president to review his position if not we have the power on behalf of the Nigerian youths who voted us to veto him so that people will become the ultimate beneficiaries of this bill.
“The youth of this country must be given priority and they must be respected”, he said.
Despite the decisions, a presidency official who requested not to be named as he was not authorised to speak officially on the issue, told PREMIUM TIMES that even if the lawmakers succeed in overruling the president’s veto, the corps will not be funded.
“Let them go ahead and override the president, nobody is stopping or begging them not to do so.
“The president said there is currently no money to fund an agency like that. If the National Assembly has its own money to fund the agency perpetually, let them go ahead and override the president,” the official said.
However, there have been mixed reactions from lawmakers as they disagree over the rejection of the bill as well as plan to override the president’s decision.
While some lawmakers expressed disappointment at the president over the rejection of the bill and are optimistic that it will be overturned, others hailed his decision and vowed not to support the lawmakers plan to override it.
Mao Ohabunwa (PDP, Abia North) explained that he was surprised at the president’s decision thinking that Mr. Buhari “would jump at knowing that one, it would be an opportunity to create job for our teeming youths and in the era and this time that we have so much security challenges.
“Like I keep telling somebody that I am so shocked. Every day, we hear 250 or 105 students are being taken away. They are not chicken or cockroaches that nobody would know or see.
“I believe that we cannot have enough security. That is why we can see the urge for state police which shows and goes to confirm that we still need security and we don’t have enough.
“So I am surprised at the president. I don’t know who must have given him such advice. If you look at the historical perspective of the establishment of security outfits or agency, the police have always been at the forefront of stopping them.
“Whether you talk of civil defence, you talk of federal road safety, if you look at it; it is like taking a pinch of the police function which is okay. The only function that today is fully resided in the police is prosecution,” he said.
Speaking on funding the corps, if made a law, he said: “it is the same funds. Every agency is talking about employment. Police in their time, they were able to give them only 10,000 to employ. What is that? All we are saying is that it cannot be enough. When they talk about fund, where is the fund? There is no fund and agencies are being created. It is the government that would make out the fund.
“There is nowhere you have a domiciled fund, kept for a particular programme or project of the agency or government. The creation of the agency would now enable provision of funds.
“For me, I thought that this is one bill that will help us at this time and the government and the party really would jump at it. At least, something that would endear you to the people.
“This is more like the people’s bill. Youths are already yearning for it. Everybody is geared towards it. Everything must not be legalistic in a political dispensation. You should look at things for the benefit of the people and going extra mile for providing even resources for the funds.”
When asked the way forward for the bill, Mr. Ohuabunwa said that withholding assent is not the end of the bill.
“The bill is still on transit. It is on a process. Every bill has process. Withholding of assent is not the end of the bill. So bill has a process. I believe that this is one bill that would go all hog. That is one bill that would complete its circle”, he said.
Another lawmaker, Fatimat Raji-Rasaki (PDP, Ekiti Central) expressed full support for the bill. She also told PREMIUM TIMES that all effort (work, time and money) spent to ensure the passage of the bill, will not die down like that.
“Of course, everybody is in support of the bill. If not, we wouldn’t have been through all we went through to pass it. We put our time, money and everything.
“Let the pressure be much on the executive. We at the legislature don’t have any problem”, she said.
When asked about funding of the corps, she said: “I don’t know anything about that. I am not the Minister of Finance. But let’s override the president’s veto first, then see if he won’t fund it.”
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Police Affairs, Abu Ibrahim (APC, Katsina South) openly dissociated himself from the bill as well as plans to override the president’s veto.
“It’s difficult to override the president’s veto. And even if they decide to, I won’t be in support of such a thing”, he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Another lawmaker from Bauchi who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES off record, also said he was not in support of the lawmakers’ decision to override the president’s veto.
“Even though I’m not in support of a futile effort, I don’t support my colleagues overruling the president’s veto.
He also stated that the Peace Corps is not part of the first line charge. “So even if they succeed in overriding the president’s veto, I don’t think the president is going to fund the corps”, he said.
In cases where the president withholds assent to a bill, the national assembly is empowered by the constitution to overrule the veto of the president.
The Senate and the House of Representatives will have to recall the bill and re-pass it. If the bill is passed in the form it was sent to the president by two-third majority vote in both chambers, it automatically becomes a law even without the signature of the president.