• As law-abiding APC member, l’m not going to override Mr. President, says lawmaker
James Emejo in Abuja
The House of Representatives thursday fell short of its avowed determination to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Nigerian Peace Corps (Establishment Bill) 2017, as majority of the members overwhelmingly kicked against the move to bypass the president on the matter.
The controversial legislation sponsored by Hon. Emmanuel Oker-jev (APC, Benue) was listed as a ‘veto override’ bill, expected to be passed for seconding reading.
Buhari had on February 27, 2018, withdrawn his assent to the bill, which had earlier been passed by the National Assembly, citing funding constraints and security as reasons for rejecting the bill.
Unconvinced by the reasons given by the president for the withdrawal of assent, the House of Representatives on March 14, indicated it had commenced the process of overriding the president on 10 bills, which were recently passed and transmitted for assent but were vetoed- including the Peace Corps bill.
But after an extensive debate on the subject matter, by members, some lawmakers, largely pro-Buhari, who didn’t want the bill to see the daylight, as well as save the president from the seeming embarrassment that could result from the move, carried the day.
The latest defeat of the bill on the House floor appeared have put paid to any other available opportunity to salvage the proposed establishment whose founder, Mr. Dickson Akor, had been in the eye of the storm right from the outset.
He had ruffled feathers with security agencies following damning security intelligence against him, especially regarding the setting up proposed Peace Corps.
But many saw his victimisation as a political witch-hunt, and took the grace of the law courts, which cleared him of the allegations- and set his mission on course, once again.
However, when the bill was mentioned again on the House floor thursday, Oker-jev appealed to members to seize the opportunity to give legal empowerment to the corps.
He said the purpose of the bill, which is to among other things, develop, empower and provide gainful employment for the youths, facilitate peace, volunteerism, community service, neighbourhood watch and nation-building- was a strategy already adopted by countries across the world.
“This is one good opportunity to pass this bill,” he said.
Contributing to the debate, Hon. Lovette Idisi (PDP, Delta) supported the bill on grounds that it would complement the efforts of the existing security apparatus in resolving the present security challenges across the country.
He added that the country was already under-policed which is one of the reasons why government has continued to battle insecurity.
He said: “I don’t believe funding was the reason why this bill was rejected by the president. We need to throw our weight behind the bill. We should be able to operate a security system that’s comparable worldwide.”
But, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, had briefly intervened to offer guidance and draw members’ attention to the fact that the essence of considering the bill was mainly to ponder on the reasons adduced by the president for declining assent to the bill- whether they hold water or not.
If his reasons were flawed by the majority in the House, that would pave the way for a process to override the president- and the legislation must have passed second reading.
But that was not to be.
Nevertheless, Hon. Mohammed Monguno (APC, Borno) said though the president’s excuse on security implication as reason for rejecting the bill was not well-elaborated, the passage will boost efforts of security agencies particularly in the North-east, which is largely under-policed.
He said Peace Corps was a veritable venue to engage the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) in the North-east, adding that “no amount of money spent to guarantee security is too much.”
But Hon. Ahmed Idris (APC, Plateau) said the issue of funding as highlighted by Buhari ought to be a concern against the backdrop of the current fiscal challenge confronting the government.
He also expressed worry over the recruitment process of the Peace Corps, against the backdrop of allegations of extortion by Akor, stressing that with such an individual heading the corps, not much results could be achieved.
On his part, Hon. Johnson Agbonayinma (APC, Edo) said though he was not against the bill, the president could have better understanding on the aspect of security which he cited.
He advised the leadership of the House to meet with the executive in order to be better informed on the perceived security implication of establishing the corps, adding that such issues cannot be “discussed in a beer parlour.”
But Dogara quickly, humorously pointed out that the matter was not being discussed in a beer parlour and wondered why Agbonayinma resorted to such expression.
Nonetheless, Baballe Bashir (APC, Kano) opposed the bill, stressing that all security agencies appeared to be under-funded and wondered why another agency should be created amid current reality.
He said instead, the police could be provided with additional funding to be able to absorb more Nigerians in the Force.
He said supporting the bill could further set a dangerous precedent whereby any outfit, including religious bodies, could seek to be registered as a security agency.
However, Hon. Abdulrasaq Namdas (APC, Adamawa) backed the bill, noting that if the primary duty of government is to guarantee security, the issue of funding should not be an issue.
Similarly, Hon. Gaza Jonathan Gbewfi (PDP, Nasarawa) also supported the passage of the bill for second reading.
He pointed out that the past years had only brought bloodshed and loss of lives, adding that more hands were needed to beef up security as reports indicated there’ll be increased nomadic activities, which had often led to herdsmen and farmers’ clashes.
Also, contributing, Hon. Goni Bukar Lawal (APC, Yobe) said, “I support the veto override brought by Oker-jev.”
According to him, peace remained the bedrock of every development, noting that all military men are currently engaged at various flash-points.
“The only problem is composition of the bill and should be looked at,” he added.
Hon. Rita Orji (PDP, Lagos) also spoke in favour of the bill.
She said there was no longer free and secure movement of Nigerians to various parts of the country due to the security challenges.
She further noted that various litigation against the establishment of the peace corps had been quashed by the courts of law and wondered by the House would act contrary.
Orji said Buhari’s concerns over funding constraints was immaterial, suggesting instead that monies currently being paid to unproductive sectors be rechanneled to productive activities “If it’ll reduce unemployment because there are other stagnant agencies.”
However, at this point, the opposition to the passage of the bill had begun to swell as Hon. Magaji Aliyu (APC, Jigawa) vehemently kicked against the bill.
“As law abiding APC member, am not going to override Mr. President. This bill shouldn’t see the light of day,” he said.
He also frowned against the allegations levelled against the Akor, who is the National Commandant of the proposed corps- that he went around collecting money from Nigerians towards their recruitment and training.
He said the House shouldn’t legalise such acts.
Hon. Chika Adamu (APC, Niger) said the Peace Corps cannot solve the local security challenges better than the locals, adding that the current structure of security agencies was already over bloated.
He said: “We don’t have to veto the president on issue of funding. Lots of security agencies can’t be funded so why create another agency. If we bastardise the use of veto, we also bastardise what we came here to do. It’s time we reject this veto override.”
Hon. Jimoh Olajide (APC, Lagos) however, called for sound reasoning by members.
He noted that a lot of Nigerians had already engaged by the Corps for job purposes adding that the issue of security should be taken seriously.
“Need to apply wisdom; let’s have a committee led by leadership to meet with the executive and resolve grey areas,” he said.
Hon. Shawulu Kwewum (PDP, Taraba) also cautioned against throwing away the baby with the bathwater.
He said members’ contributions had not addressed issues raised by president, stressing that the issue of internal security was not the responsibility of the military.
He said there was no need opposing the passage of the bill if the mandate of the corps doesn’t in any way conflict with existing security agencies.
But Hon. Simon Arabo (PDP, Kaduna) urged the lower chamber to override the president’s veto adding that the act of veto was not knew in parliament.
He cited an instance whereby former President Olusegun Obasanjo had similarly withheld his assent to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on accuses of lack of funding and security but was overruled by parliament.
He said: “Peace Corps is not a terrorist organisation, we should invoke Section 58 (5) and override the veto.”
At some point in the debate, it because difficult to anticipate the fate of the bill as it looked too close to call.
Nonetheless, Hon. Sunday Adepoju (APC, Oyo) said the fact that the Civil Defence is performing showed Peace Corps would also do a good job.
“Is there any price too much to maintain security in a country like this? There’s many benefits to be derived from bill. Let’s pass it so Nigerians will be happy for it,” he said.
But, Hon. Nicholas Ossai, a PDP stalwart from Delta, unusually, offered praises to Buhari for rejecting the bill which was according to him, “passed in error” by the House.
“I’m in favour of dropping this bill. We should support Buhari on this ground,” he said, adding that purse of the nation remained a great concern.
Bouyed by Ossai’s submission.”
Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano) said the opinion of the president should be respected as a retired army general and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, particularly on issues of security.
“Allow the president’s veto stand on grounds that he knows better. Please, see reason with Mr President,” he said.
Hon. Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos) said overriding the president cannot solve the problem of insecurity, rather, he said the state governments should be allowed to amend their constitution to allow for state police.
Hon. Oguma Johnson (APC, Edo) said members should not go into altercation with the president but rather step down the bill.
Hon. Istifanus Gyang (PDP, Plateau) said:”We should throw away baby with bathwater,”
He said parliament must not deny the youth the opportunity of gainful employment.
“We should deny not them opportunity and yet brand them as being lazy,” he said, referring to recent statement by Buhari where he labelled Nigerian youths are being lazy.
However, Hon. Musa Sarikin Ada (APC, Sokoto) said,”We are going to compromise our owner they way we going.”
He said Peace Corps can’t provide what police has failed to provide since 1914.
He cited the instances of Akor, who was said to have collected the sum of N50,000.00 from recruits, claiming he wanted to lobby lawmakers.
At this point, Hon. Gbewfi raised a point of order, drawing attention to the fact that the president never cited any instance of corruption as reasons for withdrawing assent to the bill.
The Speaker, therefore, sustained his point of order a nd asked members to restrict their arguments to the subject matter as demanded by House rules.
Eventually, the mover of the bill was given an opportunity to close the debate- which could have provided him the opportunity to save the bill by stepping it down for further consideration and lobbying, perhaps it could be resurrected some day for debate.
But he said, “I’m exercising my right of reply”, adding that suggestion that Buhari, as a retired general should not be questioned over security issues, doesn’t hold water.
He said the fact that Buhari failed to expand on the security aspect of his excuse, leaves room for speculation.
He said the president’s two reason for declining assent to the bill was not sufficient.
However, Dogara, before putting the question to members, clarified that passing the bill for second reading “don’t mean anything because it still needs two-thirds majority vote.”
When he eventually put the question that the bill be read for the second time, there was a resounding “Nay”.