Sunday, July 12, 2020

Nigeria Peace Corps denies bribing senators, says we lobbied for the bill passage

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The promoters of Nigerian Peace Corps have said they carried out ‘intense lobbying’ of lawmakers before they rammed through a bill that seeks to upgrade their non-governmental organisation into a federal law enforcement agency.

But existing security agencies and the Ministry of Interior, under which a nationalised Peace Corps would be domiciled, refused to warm up to the group.

It was reported Saturday that members of the Peace Corps, led by its national commandant, Dickson Akoh, bribed lawmakers with job slots and cash reward to secure votes needed to pass the Nigerian Peace Corps Bill.

The Senate approved the harmonised version of the controversial bill on Tuesday, despite deep scepticism from its own committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters that the proposed para-military agency offers virtually no unique service to the public.

In a statement on Sunday, the group’s spokesperson, Milicent Umoru, denied any illicit motives on the part of the Peace Corps and lawmakers prior to the passage of the bill.

“In advanced democracies of the world, people lobby legislators to pass bills,” Ms. Umoru said. “And that is exactly what Dr. Akoh and those who believe in the nobility of this project did.”

The spokesperson said purported enemies of the Peace Corps erroneously tagged the pressure her organisation mounted on senators as “bribery.”

Ms. Umoru, however, failed to explain if offering cash to lawmakers while promising them other favours was an acceptable component of lobbying in a decent society.

Moreover, Ms. Umoru said promoters of the Peace Corps will remain resolute in their pursuit of presidential assent to the bill, although she did not highlight unique impacts a nationalised Peace Corps would engender for the country.

Questions about why a country crippled by fiscal challenges occasioned by a bloated civil service would need another paramilitary department even as existing ones become increasingly exorbitant to run have continued to pop up.

David Umaru, the committee chairman who was mandated by the Senate to look into the significance of the Nigerian Peace Corps Bill, delivered a scathing review of the paramilitary group when he laid the findings of his committee before the Senate Tuesday.

“The powers, functions, e.t.c., of the Peace Corps ‎call for concern and this committee would wish that they are subjected to further examination,”Mr. Umaru, APC-Niger East, said.

But Ms. Umoru said Mr. Umaru was only expressing his opinion, mocking the senator for being in the minority.

“Umaru is entitled to his opinion as guaranteed by the Constitution,” Ms. Umoru said. “But thank God, in a democracy, while the minority may have their say, the majority will certainly have their way.”

Ms. Umoru also dismissed an observation by Mr. Umaru that the Peace Corps in Nigeria had departed from the principles of its sister organisation in the United States.

“Nigerian Peace Corps, though patterned after its America counterpart, its current proactive leadership under Dr Akoh has positively redefined its concept to suit our local environment,” she said.

Mr. Akoh, 43, started the Peace Corps in Nigeria in 1994, running it for four years until 1998 when he formally registered it as a non-governmental organisation.

Amongst the objectives of the organisation were capacity building for youth creativity and intervention; capacity building for youth development and empowerment in agriculture; and peace education and conflict resolution.

According to documents from the Office of the National Security Adviser, Mr. Akoh originally named his group Nigerian Leadership and Marshall Corps when he first floated it in 1994.

In the ensuing years, the former Nigerian Army cadet officer, gave his group different names until he finally settled on the Nigerian Peace Corps in 1998.

Afterwards, Mr. Akoh began mobilising the youth for different paramilitary missions across the country.

The organisation said earlier this year it had no fewer than 113,000 regular officers and volunteers scattered across its formations in the 36 states of the federation ‎and Abuja.

But existing security agencies and the Ministry of Interior, under which a nationalised Peace Corps would be domiciled, refused to warm up to the group.

The security agencies, especially the State Security Service and the police, warned that the Peace Corps could prove detrimental to the country’s national security because the organisation was founded by disgruntled ex-servicemen who were either compulsorily retired or dismissed from service.

At a House committee hearing during consideration of the bill, the Office of the Head of Service (HoS) said several government agencies with similar mandates as Peace Corps already exist and listed the Ministry of Youth Development and Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity and Ministry of Environment as examples.

Other existing law enforcement agencies include: Ministry of Education, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, National Orientation Agency, National Poverty Eradication Programme and, National Directorate of Employment. The list is far from being exhausted, the head of service said.

Consequently, the HoS 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.”

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.

This year alone, the police have detained Mr. Akoh at least twice.

At the first incident, 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.

The head office was also shut by the police, and has not been reopened ever since.

But in her statement Sunday, Ms. Umoru said the agencies “are either ignorant of the core mandate of the Corps arising out of sheer misinformation or they willingly elected to be on the same page with those who have sworn on their grandfathers’ graves to serve as undertakers for the Corps.”

Meanwhile, the man amid the storm, Mr. Akoh ,also said he will not be intimidated by the “false allegations”, saying his organisation will remain focused on its mission to give a decent future to Nigerian youth through law enforcement and community service.

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