WHO NEEDS THE PEACE CORPS?

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Government should strengthen existing paramilitary outfits instead of establishing new ones

Despite stiff opposition from several security agencies, especially the Nigeria Police and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, the House of Representatives recently passed a bill to establish the Nigeria Peace Corps. The bill is now awaiting concurrence from the Senate where it has already passed second reading. At a time of lean resources and against the background that there are already duplications in the functions of many of our security agencies, we do not see the wisdom in creating yet another cost centre of dubious national value.

The House, in adopting the report of its committee on interior, which recommended the establishment of the Nigeria Peace Corps, said the organisation would complement efforts of other security agencies and enhance youth empowerment. But the police and NSCDC have protested that legalising the Peace Corps, which has existed for 17 years, would create an unnecessary overlap of responsibilities.

Interestingly, the Interior Ministry under which it is expected to be domiciled, is also opposed to the idea of institutionalising the Peace Corps. During the public hearing on the bill sponsored by Hon. Abdullahi Umar Farouk, the legal adviser of the ministry, Mr. Adebola Odugbesan, put it succinctly: “The creation of the Nigeria Peace Corps is unnecessary considering the fact that its duties are vague.

The corps functions as stated in the bill are already carried out by the Nigeria Police Force and other paramilitary organisations under the interior ministry.”
We share the position of the ministry as well as that of other stakeholders who worry about funding the corps at a time of national economic emergency. But justifying the need for institutionalising the Peace Corps, its Commandant General, Mr. Dickson Akoh, argued that its duties would include partnering with schools, secondary and tertiary, to curb examination malpractices and cultism. He also said the corps would encourage volunteerism in the manner of the Peace Corps of America, and spelt out the manner of funding for the organisation, including government subventions. The most interesting reason however remains that it is aimed at providing employment for the increasing number of graduates who have remained unemployed and are therefore prone to crime.

While we concede that the level of unemployment in the country remains a big source of concern, the establishment of paramilitary organisations is not necessarily the answer. The NSCDC itself started out under similar circumstances as a voluntary organisation before it received legal backing under President Olusegun Obasanjo. It already duplicates most of the functions of the police, and has now secured the right to bear light arms. Sadly, many of its personnel are gradually being enmeshed in the same vices the police have been associated with: extra-judicial killings, harassment of civilians and extortion, etc.

As things stand today, there are no indications that despite Akoh’s reassurance that the organisation is not interested in bearing arms, it would not begin agitation for same in the name of protecting its personnel once it becomes an official force. Yet, the questions remain: Is the National Assembly, in passing this bill, saying any individual, so inspired, should establish an organisation and seek government funding for it? Are there no other viable alternatives to reducing unemployment, such as enhancing legislation to create an environment that would encourage self-employment? What would the lawmakers do when in a few years a similar organisation comes before them to seek legal backing?

We hold the view that government should strengthen existing paramilitary outfits, rather than establish new ones. The idea behind the Nigeria Peace Corps does not make sense to us and we ask the National Assembly not to waste its time on the issue.