By Afe Babalola
“I must state that I am in total agreement with Mr President. Over the years I have consistently drawn attention to the huge cost of governance in Nigeria, a development which has not been helped by the huge number of government parastatals carrying out the same or similar functions,”
A few weeks back, the President formally informed the National Assembly of the reasons for his decision to withhold his assent to the Peace Corps (Establishment) Bill 2017). Reading from the President’s letter, the Speaker of the House of Representatives revealed that he had withheld his assent for primarily the following reasons:
“Security concerns regarding the proposed Nigerian Peace Corps being authorized to undertake activities currently being performed by extant security and law enforcement agencies; and Financial implications of funding the establishment and operations of the proposed Nigerian Peace Corps, given the scarce financial resources may pose serious challenges to the government.“
This development was met with an outcry from members of the National Assembly who argued that the passage of the bill was the best thing to happen to Nigerian Youths. Since then there has been talk of the National Assembly overriding the president’s veto by passing the bill by a two thirds majority in line with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. Prior to the decision of the President, members of the Corps had been constantly harassed by the Police and other law enforcement agencies. Things came to a head when the Commandant of the Corps was arrested and arraigned alongside other senior officers of the corps for offences relating to running of an illegal organisation, extortion, wearing of uniforms, hoisting of flags etc. In addition, the National Headquarters of the Corps in Abuja was sealed off by the Police.
As is usual, various views have been expressed on the correctness or otherwise of the President’s decision. Many have agreed with him that rather than approve the establishment of yet another security organisation, that funding should be increased to the existing ones to improve their capacity. Others have also argued that establishment of the Corps would provide employment to thousands of youths and help to reduce the current level of unemployment prevalent in the country. Without much ado, I must state that I am in total agreement with Mr President. Over the years I have consistently drawn attention to the huge cost of governance in Nigeria, a development which has not been helped by the huge number of government parastatals carrying out the same or similar functions. To allow for a proper discussion, of I will examine not only the provisions of the Bill but also the history of Peace Corps itself.
Origin of Peace Corps in the USA
The term “Peace Corps” was first associated with a volunteer body in the United States of America. In relation to this body, Wikipedia states as follows:
“The Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the United States government. The stated mission of the Peace Corps includes providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand American culture, and helping Americans to understand the cultures of other countries. The work is generally related to social and economic development. Each program participant, a Peace Corps Volunteer, is an American citizen, typically with a college degree, who works abroad for a period of two years after three months of training. Volunteers work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations, non-government organizations, and entrepreneurs in education, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment. After 24 months of service, volunteers can request an extension of service.
The program was established by Executive Order 10924, issued by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961, announced by televised broadcast March 2, 1961, and authorized by Congress on September 21, 1961, with passage of the Peace Corps Act (Pub.L. 87–293). The act declares the program’s purpose as follows:
To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.
British Peace Corps
The British also have the British Peace Corps Bill 2017 which provides amongst others as follows:
Primary Mission and Miscellaneous Objectives
(1) The British Peace Corps (BPC) will exist to help fulfill the mission of the British Armed Forces, specifically;
- a) to provide forces to conduct activities to promote British interests, influence and standing abroad,
- b) to contribute forces to operations other than war in support of British interests and international order and humanitarian principles.
(2) The BPC will provide an opportunity for rewarding and meaningful service with a global importance without impressing upon anyone the need to cause loss of life or property.
(3) In recognition of the role women in developing countries play, the BPC will be administered so as to give particular attention to programs and projects which might help integrate women into the national economy of developing countries and improve their status.
(4) In recognition of the fact that the sick and disable of the world are often the poorest and the least supported, the BPC will be administered so as to give particular attention to programs and projects which might help integrate such people into the national economy of developing countries and improve their status.
From the above, it is clear that the Peace Corps in the United States and the United Kingdom are foreign policy tools utilised by both country to bring better understanding of their national values through out the world by engaging in volunteer and aide work. In this respect both bodies are similar to the Nigerian Technical Aid Corps though which Nigeria offers technical assistance to other developing african and Caribbean countries through volunteerism. For the avoidance of doubt, sections 1 and 2 of the Nigerian Technical Aid Corps Act provide as follows:
Establishment of the Nigerian Technical Aid Corps
(1) There is hereby established a Corps to be known as the Nigerian Technical Aid Corps (in this Act referred to “the Corps”). (2) The Corps shall consist of such member of volunteers as may from time to time, be recruited under the provisions of this Act.
- Objectives of the Corps
The objectives of the Corps are to—(a) share Nigeria’s know-how and expertise with other African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (in this Act referred to as “recipient countries”);
(b) give assistance on the basis of the assessed and perceived needs of the recipient countries;
(c) promote cooperation and understanding between Nigeria and the recipient countries; and
(d) facilitate meaningful contacts between the youths of Nigeria and those of the recipient countries.
The Nigeria Peace Corps
The Nigerian Peace Corps was established in 1994 by its current Commandant, Dickson Akor with the name “Nigerian Leadership and Marshall Corps.” The body was registered in 1998 as a non-governmental organisation with its objectives stated to include, capacity building for youth creativity and intervention; capacity building for youth development and empowerment in agriculture; and peace education and conflict resolution. Since then, the Corps has evolved in structure and organisation so much so that by its establishment bill, some members will be entitled to wear uniforms with rank insignias closely resembling those of the Police and the Army.