Recently, I heard of the establishment of the Peace Corps of Nigeria.
The Peace Corps of Nigeria (PCN) is a non-governmental and uniformed youth organisation that aims to achieve peace through development and re-orientation of youths, according to the organisation. It believes that the prolonged years of military rule, the civil war and the proliferation of small arms have made youths susceptible to the culture of violence, thuggery and banditry. And what the nation therefore needs today in order to develop and build ideal democratic culture is unity, not disunity, peace not war, wine not blood and bread not bullet.
The Peace Corps of Nigeria reminds me of the American organisation Peace Corps.
But America’s Peace Corps, unlike the Peace Corps of Nigeria, was established to promote world peace and friendship. It was established by an executive order by President John F. kennedy on March 1, 1961. It currently has a presence in more than 60 countries of the world.
The Peace Corps of Nigeria was founded by Ambassador (Dr.) Dickson A.O. Akoh on July 10, 1998.
The corps has operated without the backing of the law. But a bill to legally establish the corps was passed for first reading on March 10, 2016. The bill was sponsored by Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume (APC-Borno). It eventually passed its second reading and on November 24, 2016, the Senate read the bill for the third time and passed it into the law. President Buhari is expected to give assent to the bill to complete the process. According to report, the passing of the bill gives approval for the establishment of the corps as an agency under the Ministry of Interior.
According to Akoh, getting a presidential assent to the bill will reduce crime by 70% within three months.
The corps will reduce social vices and crime by engaging youths meaningfully, he said.
The establishment of the corps has met with both positive and negative reactions of the public.
Comrade Aruna Kadiri, the National President of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), says, ‘The bill will go a long way to adequately empower, develop and provide alternative employment for many Nigerian youths.’
But one journalist described it as, ‘…another financially unproductive government agency.’ He argues that, there are existing agencies that can handle the tasks set for the corps.
Youths in Adamawa have also rejected the ₦40,000 registration fee charged by the corps in its ongoing recruitment. The high registration fee is seen as a means to exploit youths and make it difficult for them to enlist in the corps, according to them.
On an online news site, a reader explained in a comment on a post about the ridiculous registration fee that, ‘For instance in Ondo State, old officers that were recruited and trained in 2004 were asked to pay ₦104,000 before they could send their names for documentation in Abuja.’
America’s Peace Corps does not charge any registration fee but some applicants may be asked to pay some money for their medical screening.
What is clear now is that, while the Peace Corps of Nigeria may be a good initiative, the integrity of the corps cannot be assured and the need for establishing the corps cannot be justified.