“The fact that youths are unemployed should not translate into a burden on government to create government parastatals or bodies to absorb them! What proponents of this argument should do is to encourage government to introduce policies which will aid the establishment of small and medium scale enterprises which world over are acknowledged as the catalysts for meaningful and sustainable economic growth and development. The solution to unemployment has never been for government itself to begin to employ!”
LAST week I examined issues leading up to the decision of Mr President to withhold his assent to the Peace Corps (Establishment) Bill and the resultant criticism of his decision from the National Assembly which was closely followed by threats by some members of that body to have the bill passed by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly thereby overriding the President’s veto. I traced the origin of the concept of the Peace Corps to the United States and how some other countries including the United Kingdom now seek to have their own version of the Corps. More importantly, I referred to the fact that the Peace Corps as conceptualised in the United States and the United Kingdom, serve mainly as foreign policy tools of the government of both countries by rendering technical assistance to other countries through volunteers similar to the functions and services of the Nigerian Technical Aides Corps.
The difference in the make-up and functions of the Corps in the United States and what is planned under the Peace Corps (Establishment) Bill is important as the promoters of the Corps in Nigeria have consistently referred to the Corps in the United States as an example of what is intended to be achieved here in Nigeria. However if as I have highlighted, Nigeria already has a body known as the Nigerian Technical Aid Corps which does the exact things the Peace Corps in the United States does, I do not see a need and indeed I consider it wasteful to propose the establishment of a Peace Corps in Nigeria. I note however, the argument that the proposed Peace Corps upon establishment will be supposedly saddled with duties such as the facilitation of Peace, Community Services, Volunteerism, Nation Building, Neighborhood Watch, Maintenance of Discipline in all levels of Educational Institutions in Nigeria and other related matters and that this would essentially set it apart from any other existing government agency. Again, this is far from the truth. Nigeria already has the National Orientation Agency which is a creation of the National Orientation Agency Act Cap N64 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. By the provisions of Section 3 of the Act, the agency is saddled with the following functions:
Functions of the Agency
(1) The Agency shall-(a) enlighten the general public on Federal Government policies,programmes and activities;
(b) mobilise favourable public opinion and support for Federal Government policies, programmes and activities;
(c) collect, collate, analyse and provide a source of feedback from the public to the Federal Government on its policies, programmes and ctivities;
(d) establish social institutions and framework for deliberate exposure of Nigerians to democratic norms and values for virtue, peaceful, united, progressive and disciplined society;
(e) energise the conscience of all categories of Nigerians to their rights and privileges, responsibilities and obligations as citizens of Nigeria;
(f) propagate and promote the spirit of dignity of labour, honesty and commitment of qualitative production, promotion and consumption of home-produced commodities and services;
(g) re-orientate Nigerians to shed their general attitudes to wastage, variety and pretences of affluence in their lifestyles;
(h) orientate the populace about power, its use and the proper role of the Federal Government in serving the collective interest of Nigerians;
(i) propagate the need to eschew all vices in public life including corruption, dishonesty, electoral and census malpractice, ethnic, parochial and religious bigotry; propagate the virtue of hard work, honesty, loyalty, self-reliance, commitment to and the promotion of national integration;
(k) mobilise Nigerians for positive patriotic participation in and identification with national affairs and issues; and
(l) sensitise, induct and equip all Nigerians to fight against all forms of internal and external domination of resources by a few individuals or groups.
By virtue of Section 10 of its establishment Act, the Agency is empowered to establish a National Orientation Brigade. Furthermore, the Act establishes in each state of the Federation, a Directorate of the Agency and in all Local Governments of the Federation, a formation of the Agency. The question that arises therefore is why the country needs another body to duplicate functions similar or identical to those already vested in the National Orientation Agency. Even if it is argued that the functions of the proposed Corps are not entirely captured by the functions of the National Orientation Agency, would it not be better and less cost effective to simply amend the provisions of the National Orientation Agency Act to cover the new areas rather than establishing a totally new body? This becomes more imperative when it is considered that it is proposed that the Corps will have Zonal Commands across the Six Geopolitical Zones of the Country while also having State Commands to be headed by Deputy Commandants when the Agency by its own Act already has these structures in place.
CORPS NOT SOLUTION TO UNEMPLOYMENT
Despite this, some argue that the proposed corps will provide job opportunities for thousands of unemployed youths and that the government which has always stated its desire to fight unemployment should seize the opportunity offered by the creation of the Corps. If the sole or even primary aim is to create employment, then the creation of the Corps is not the way to go about it. The fact that youths are unemployed should not translate into a burden on government to create government parastatals or bodies to absorb them! What proponents of this argument should do is to encourage government to introduce policies which will aid the establishment of small and medium scale enterprises which world over are acknowledged as the catalysts for meaningful and sustainable economic growth and development. The solution to unemployment has never been for government itself to begin to employ!
Another worrying aspect of the proposed Corps is the fact that some of its personnel will wear uniforms bearing rank insignias with a structure fashioned after those of the Police and the armed forces. If the aim of this body is to carry out functions of public enlightenment etc, I do not see the value which the proposed uniforms and ranks structure will add to the accomplishment of its objectives. On the contrary, I foresee a situation in which a populace which has over the years grown suspicious and resentful of a litany of uniform wearing organisations and their personnel such as the Police, Civil Defence Corps, Road Safety Corps, Vehicle Inspection Officers, NDLEA, will come to view the Corps and its officers and men as just another group of uniformed oppressors thereby defeating from the outset, the very objectives of the Corps. Indeed the decision to garb the personal in uniforms and ranks styled after those of the Police may actually lend some credence to the views expressed by that body that the Corps if permitted to operate will lead to an usurpation of functions constitutionally preserved for the Police. While it may be said that no plans to arm members of the Corps have been disclosed thus far, events surrounding the establishment and eventual arming of members of the National Civil Defence Corps do not make the absence of such a plan much of an assurance.
The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps was introduced at the height of the Civil war to carry out enlightenment activities similar to those proposed of the Corps. In 1984 and 1988 respectively it transmuted into a fully-fledged Federal Agency. In 2007 its scope was widened further such that Section 3(f) of its establishment Act now empowers it amongst others to arrest, detain investigate and institute legal proceedings in the name of the Attorney General of the Federation against any person who is reasonably suspected to be involved in criminal activity etc. This is a clear violation of the provisions of Section 214 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) which vests law enforcement duties exclusively in the Nigeria Police Force and forbids the establishment of another Police for Nigeria or any part thereof. Today members of the Civil Defence Corps are armed just like members of the Police and armed Forces.
In conclusion, Nigeria can do without the establishment of the Peace Corps. The establishment of the Corps will only add to the huge cost of governance in this country. It will take funds away from critical areas of the economy. As noted by the President, funding its take off and operations will pose challenges. Members of the National Assembly and proponents of the Bill to establish the Corps will do well to take heed.