President Muhammadu Buhari has, for the first time in his 3 years in office, invoked his veto power against the National Assembly, Nigeria’s federal legislature. In a letter he sent last week to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, the president said categorically that he would not give his assent to the Peace Corps of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill. He gave two reasons for his refusal: a) paucity of funds, and (b) the Corps is a duplication in the nation’s security architecture.
To be sure, the president’s action did not surprise anyone. His long silence was a pointer to the decision that has eventually been taken. The National Assembly passed the bill early December and promptly sent it for the president’s assent that same month. Before then, a conference of the two chambers of the legislature had harmonised their positions. The House adopted the harmonised version on Jan. 19, 2017 and the Senate July 25, 2017.
The draft law seeks to make the Corps a federal government department, wholly funded by the state. This way, its officers and volunteers will be absorbed into the public service and their salaries as well as personal emoluments paid by the government. Proponents of the bill had hoped that the Corps, if formalised, would employ many of the nation’s youth wallowing in poverty in the labour market. A recent National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) put the unemployment rate at over 18 million between 2015 and now.
While awaiting the passage of the bill, the Corps had been busy recruiting and training able-bodied young men and women. Now their hope seems dashed with Buhari’s decision. The National Assembly may decide to call the president’s bluff by overriding the veto that he has invoked. It has power to make the bill a law after 30 days of the president withholding his assent. But will the lawmakers go to that extent to risk a confrontation with the president? Not likely. For one, Buhari’s APC party has a comfortable majority in both chambers of the National Assembly. To be sure, there will be “sound and fury”, but it will “signify nothing” in the end.
Was the Corps dead on arrival? Yes. Opposition to it from the Nigeria Police Force was particularly strong. It thought or feared that those behind the Corps, including its director-general Dickson Akoh, were bent on undermining the police. On Feb. 17, 2017, Akoh and 49 of his men were arrested and taken into detention. The Corps’ hesd office in Abuja has remained sealed ever since, in spite of a court order that it be reopened.
The police has fought legitimacy battles in the past and lost them all. It fought against the setting up of the Federal Road Safety Commission but was browbeaten. Ditto the Civil Denfence In all cases, it lost the battle and the war. Will it be the same against the Corps? For now, it does seem victory has gone the way of the police. But they should not celebrate yet. Backing for the Corps is formidable in the National Assembly and outside, although there are allegations of plot by some influential figures in concert with foreign networks to infiltrate and undermine Nigeria’s polity using the corps.
Besides, Buhari hasn’t said the Corps is illegitimate. No, he is saying only that times are hard and his mind is focused on the insurgency in the northeast and other security challenges. He is right about the hard times, but maybe not so right about function duplication. Our society, even in the best of times, is not adequately policed. We certainly can do with more hands to tackle today’s increasing security challenges. We pray the president not to close the door against the Corps but keep it open, only if, and when the conspiracy theory is proved wrong that the Peace Corps is the brainchild of some foreign powers intent upon destabilising Nigeria.