© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
INVESTIGATION: How senators took bribes to pass Peace Corps Bill
This investigation by Premium Times was first published in July 2017. It is republished here with permission, following the President’s refusal to sign the bill into law.
By Samuel Ogundipe
To pass the Nigerian Peace Corps Bill, senators received kickbacks in form of job slots and cash reward from the promoters of the proposed paramilitary organisation, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
Scores of senators received at least seven employment slots each to back the bill, which was passed to, amongst other things, create the Nigerian Peace Corps as the country’s newest law enforcement agency.
Some of the lawmakers considered key to the passage of the law got as much as 500 slots, our findings show.
Other senators received cash rewards for their acquiescence, multiple senators, including those who benefited, sources told PREMIUM TIMES.
The bribery scheme became so brazen that some senators who were members of the committees that worked on the bill pointedly accused each other of being bought by the Peace Corps.
But the leadership of the Senate quickly weighed in, made peace amongst the feuding senators and hushed up the case, consequently saving the upper chamber from another major embarrassment, our sources said.
The Peace Corps, however, denied offering bribes to lawmakers to secure the major milestone in its decade-long quest to become a government agency.
“At no point did our organisation offered any bribes to lawmakers,” Milicent Umoru, the group’s spokesperson, told PREMIUM TIMES. “The bill actually suffered a whole lot before it was finally adopted a few days ago.”
Both chambers of the National Assembly passed the bill “because they see it as necessary to curb acute unemployment amongst Nigerian youth,” she added.
It remains unclear whether members of the House of Representatives also took bribes to pass the bill.
The Senate approved the harmonised version of the controversial bill on Tuesday, despite deep scepticism from its own Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters that the bill offers virtually no unique service to the public.
David Umaru, the committee chairman who was mandated by the Senate to look into the significance of the Nigerian Peace Corps Bill, delivered a scathing review of the paramilitary group when he laid the findings of his committee before the Senate Tuesday.
“The powers, functions, e.t.c., of the Peace Corps call for concern and this committee would wish that they are subjected to further examination,” Mr. Umaru, APC-Niger East, said.
The senator said the attempts by promoters of the Peace Corps to make government absorb it was strange and starkly different from the approach of its sister organisation in the United States.
“The American Peace Corps, which is used as a model, does not operate as a permanent and pensionable employment as intended in Nigeria under this proposed legislation,” Mr. Umaru said. “Rather, its employment is for a limited period of five years only for regular employees and 24 months for volunteers.”
Yet, Mr. Umaru went on to recommend that the Senate should proceed with passing the harmonised version of the Peace Corps Bill, clearing the way for its onward transfer to the president’s desk for assent.
Dickson Akoh, Peace Corps’ national commandant, said his organisations would offer what the American Peace Corps offers and even more.
The Peace Corps will achieve capacity building for youth creativity and intervention; capacity building for youth development and empowerment in agriculture; and peace education and conflict resolution, Mr. Akoh said.
But a majority of existing government agencies expressed strong opposition to the creation of the organisation.
At a House committee hearing during consideration of the bill, the Office of the Head of Service (HoS) said several government agencies with similar mandates as Peace Corps already exist and listed the Ministry of Youth Development and Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity and Ministry of Environment as examples.
Other existing law enforcement agencies include: Ministry of Education, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, National Orientation Agency, National Poverty Eradication Programme and, National Directorate of Employment. The list is far from being exhausted, the head of service said.
Consequently, the HoS urged lawmakers to consider “the implications of the proposed creation of Nigerian Peace Corps on the cost of governance and duplication of duties of existing agencies.”
Law enforcement agencies have taken measures against the Peace Corps since at least 2003 when the State Security Service arrested Mr. Akoh and shut down his offices across the country.
He resumed operation in 2007. But when the SSS clamped down on his organisation again, he launched a civil lawsuit which has dragged since then.
This year alone, the police have detained Mr. Akoh at least twice.
At the first incident, armed officers from police, SSS and the Nigerian Army stormed the head office of the Peace Corps and took Mr. Akoh and more than 40 others into custody.
The head office was also shut by the police, and has not been reopened ever since.
Mr. Akoh said he had won at least 11 cases against different security agencies over the past 15 years. The police will neither confirm nor deny this assertion.
While several agencies under executive control have openly expressed opposition to the Peace Corps, President Muhammadu Buhari and Acting President Yemi Osinbajo have not said whether they will assent to the bill or reject it.
Enquiries directed to presidential spokespersons, including Garba Shehu, Laolu Akande and Femi Adesina, went unanswered throughout Thursday.
Senate sources with knowledge about the tactics of the Peace Corps told PREMIUM TIMES the group’s promoters gave millions of naira to some senators.
“Apart from the cash bribes that they offered, they even gave some key lawmakers who worked to ensure that the bill was passed more than 1000 job slots,” a senator said.
But PREMIUM TIMES could not confirm if Mr. Umaru received cash bribes from the Peace Corps.
Promoters of the Peace Corps also put pressure on some lawmakers through their constituents.
“They asked our constituents to inundate us with calls about jobs prospects in the Peace Corps,” the senator said.
Senate spokesperson, Abdullahi Aliyu, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES request for comments on the allegations.
But Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP-Abia South, denied receiving any bribes from the Peace Corps.
The “allegation is beneath contempt,” he said.
“None at all,” he said while responding to specific question on whether he received cash bribes.
Mr. Akoh was said to raised funds from the sale of forms to unemployed youth seeking job placement in his organisation. He has been selling employment forms to prospective recruits at N1,500 per copy.
But he told PREMIUM TIMES in January that the N40,000 he collects from prospective members was meant for registration, training, procurement of kits, amongst others.
“The ICPC has investigated us in 2004 and established that we’re not extorting money from the youth,” he added.
Other than the possible employment opportunities that an established Peace Corps could bring to Nigerian youth, there appears to be no other unique reason for its creation.
But even “this can be achieved by strengthening existing agencies and not necessarily creating a new one so as not to overburden the federal government,” Mr. Umaru said.
Yet, the senator declined requests from PREMIUM TIMES seeking to know why he urged his colleagues to allow the Peace Corps Bill scale through in disregard of the findings of his committee.