At least two personnel of the Nigerian Peace Corps were confirmed injured after security operatives stormed their office late Tuesday, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
Dickson Akoh, National Commandant of the Corps, and about 40 other national executives from across the country were also taken away to an unknown destination, Peace Corps officials said.
Several witnesses account, mostly from Peace Corps officials who said they were present during the operation, said the raid was a combined operation of the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Army and the State Security Service.
The arrest came weeks after the Nigerian Senate and the House of Representatives harmonised the Nigerian Peace Corps Bill to give the group, which had operated as a volunteer organisation for 18 years, government backing.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt the SSS and police submitted memoranda to the National Assembly against the establishment of the Peace Corps, but the lawmakers went ahead with the passage of the bill, anyway.
The bill is expected to be forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent, although it is not clear if the president will support the creation of another paramilitary agency.
It was not immediately clear if the arrests had anything to do with security agencies’ opposition to the legalisation of the Peace Corps.
The raid occurred around 11:30 p.m. late Tuesday when Mr. Akoh was holding a meeting with national executives of the Corps who were in Abuja for the commissioning of a new national headquarters in Utako District.
“It was around 11: 30 last night when were saw men from the police, Army and the SSS at our new office.
“They said the Commissioner of Police (FCT Command) sent them to arrest our commandant. But he explained to them that he already had a pending appointment with the Inspector-General of Police for 9:00 a.m. Wednesday,” one Peace Corps official said.
The officer said the police team was led by M.D. Garba, an assistant commissioner of police.
A witness in the area said she saw soldiers taking strategic positions around the premises. She said the soldiers were led by a major and they came in three Army vans.
“SSS operatives also came there in their own vehicle,” she added.
The officers said Mr. Akoh and other Peace Corps members were asked to line up and ordered into waiting vehicles.
The witnesses said six officers sustained injuries during the raid, but PREMIUM TIMES can confirm a man and a woman are currently being treated at the National Hospital, Abuja.
Kingsley Ezeadireje, lead physician for the Peace Corps, told PREMIUM TIMES the injured were not trying to resist arrest or fight the operatives.
“They were only asking if the officers were there to arrest their commandant or not,” Mr. Ezeadireje said. “Then the security officers that came started using their guns to hit our men until they started bleeding.”
The police, Army and the SSS didn’t respond to requests for comment for several hours Wednesday.
Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, told PREMIUM TIMES a statement will be issued later on Wednesday.
The Army spokesperson, Sani Usman, also gave a similar reaction.
“Let me do my findings and get back to you,” he said.
The activities of the Peace Corps had become a focus of the public since the National Assembly endorsed it late last year.
Some Nigerians accuse Mr. Akoh and other officials of the Corps of extortion because he demanded N40,000 from prospective members as registration fee.
But Mr. Akoh denied the allegation, telling PREMIUM TIMES last month that the funds were used to cover running costs and buy materials for recruits.
He also said his activities had been investigated by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission and he was cleared.
“The ICPC has investigated us in 2004 and established that the money is going towards training materials and we’re not extorting money from the youth,” Mr. Akoh said.
Mr. Akor maintained the Peace Corps will create employment for the Nigerian youth to “promote the culture of peace” by providing community service and neighbourhood watch for nation building.
He claimed such services are currently not being rendered by the police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps or any other existing security agencies.