By Benedict Ahanonu
THE Nigerian Senate recently passed the Nigerian Peace Corps Bill which was sponsored by Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume (APC-Borno), and first read at plenary on March 10, 2016.
The head of the corps will be referred to as Commandant General with six Deputy Commandants from the six geopolitical zones of the country and the headquarters will be located in Abuja .
The functions of the corps include promoting social and economic development, empowering and preoccupying Nigerian youths through job creation and provision of alternative employment. But, the bill does not specify how this will be actualized.
In passing the bill, the ‘distinguished’ senators believed that it would create job opportunities and help in augmenting the efforts of security agencies. They were also of the view that there is the need to use multiple approaches in tackling security matters. In his remark, the President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, said that the passage of the Bill would go a long way in institutionalizing the Peace Corps which had been functioning for a long time without the backing of law. The Commandant General of the Corps, Dr Chinedu Nneji, described the development as the beginning of a new era.
His words: “We will permeate and move into our various communities to ensure that we bring total peace to Nigeria . We will also make sure that the issue of Boko Haram, which the Nigerian military had reduced to the barest minimum, becomes a thing of the past.” Having weighed the logic which the senators used in passing the bill and the exuberant proclamations of Dr Nneji, who must have laboured so hard to ensure that his Peace Corps obtains legal backing, I vehemently disagree with their trite and unconvincing points.
That was how the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) obtained legal teeth and today the economy is groaning under the yoke of that are merely usurping and duplicating the constitutional functions of the Nigeria Police Force.
Granted that some people, not just youths will be provided with employment opportunities, yet the number vis-à-vis the total population of unemployed Nigerians will be so inconsequential and when measured against what it will cost to maintain yet another financially unproductive government agency – whatever benefits that might accrue from such, becomes insignificant.
Who knows what went on behind the scenes and out of the knowledge of the poor and suffering Nigerians? Who knows the kind of subterranean lobbying and arm-twisting that took place for this to happen? Let me assume that the intent is just to give the Peace Corps organization some form of legal backing to function and which will not attract any budgetary allocation, otherwise this group of parliamentarians would have failed Nigerians woefully. It is unimaginable that in a country with such debilitating economic realities, some people would choose to act as if they are not concerned. How can there be another government agency while there are calls for the pruning down of those already in existence? I mean rightsizing. Are these senators really worried about the plight of the poor and ordinary Nigerians? Are they really Nigerians?
It was Benjamin Franklin who said: “I am for doing good to the poor, but … I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
He said this over two centuries ago but to date, that line of thought resonates. That the federal government of Nigeria is the ‘greatest employer’ of labour in Africa is an incontrovertible fact and I stand to be corrected. That is the reason trillions of naria get wasted every year as recurrent expenditure leaving little or nothing for the development of the country.
China is a socialist state that operates capitalism. That has made over 600 million Chinese millionaires. The figure is about twice the population of the United States.
The Chinese government did not do that through welfarism in the form of providing job opportunities for the teeming mass of unemployed people through the creation of phoney federal agencies – no.
The Chinese adopted the Benjamin Franklin principle by creating conducive environment for the private sector to thrive and this is given the fact that whatever efforts government might be making to reduce unemployment will be totally far-fetched if it is not private-sector driven. Government can only do so little.
Today, the Chinese are rich compared to where they were at the time of Mao’s death, or even in 1989. Their economy is the second largest in the world and with 1.35 billion people, a billion more than the United States. China is without doubt an enormous nation and global industrial hub doing so well economically because its leaders are realistic and believe in a greater and better tomorrow.
Conversely, the Soviet Union collapsed because it adopted the current Nigerian model of rudimentary socialism/communism whereby the government attempts to provide everything and for everybody – quite impossible. President Buhari should in his wisdom, refuse to follow this doomed and beaten path by not signing that bill into law as it is ill-timed, wrong and counter-productive.
The senators just whipped up sentiments and pretended as if they care so much about creating jobs for the youths while they are the same people that recently took delivery of Sports Utility Vehicles which they claimed are for their oversight functions regardless of public outcry against such due to the state of the economy. Are these not the same senators that control constituency fund that is mostly unaccounted for, yet there are virtually no feasible projects in the constituencies or senatorial zones? These are the same senators that have yet to disclose the actual cost of running the legislative assembly and if you ask me, I will say that we do not have any need for a bicameral legislature because of the huge financial implications or if we must have one, let it be a kind of voluntary and patriotic service to the nation.
If the senators really mean business, they can provide jobs for the unemployed by properly channeling the constituency fund that is not taxed. They can give interest-free loans to emerging youthful and serious entrepreneurs or those with proven business acumen.
They can also prevail upon the Central Bank to reduce interest rate and make borrowing from banks easy as it is done in China , Europe, the United States and other prosperous nations of the world. The so-called Peace Corps, I believe, can function without any subvention from government if the coordinators are thinking out of the box. Therefore, it is time for government at all levels in Nigeria to resort to its primary role and allow the private sector to provide the necessary lead which the economy so badly needs and in so doing create employment opportunities.
Whatever, the Peace Corps organization intends to do can be effectively handled by the Federal Ministry of Information, the Nigeria Police through the much touted Community Policing and the National Youth Service Corps.
Ahanonul writes from Abuja