Thursday’s ruling by the Federal High Court, Abuja, in favour of the Peace Corps of Nigeria against the Nigeria Police and other security agencies brings interim relief to the embattled organisation.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Justice Gabriel Kolawole ordered the Nigeria Police to pay N12.5 million to the Peace Corps of Nigeria as compensation for unlawful arrest and detention of its officials.
The court also ordered the police to unseal the headquarters of the corps in Abuja within one week.
The building was sealed on February 28, when the police and other security agencies invaded the premises during the official inauguration of the building.
Justice Kolawole gave the order on Thursday when he delivered judgment in a fundamental human rights suit instituted by the corps against the police and five others.
The judge held that the police and the other security agents involved in the sealing of the Peace Corps premises acted outside their statutory powers.
Mr. Kolawole said although the police and other security agents had statutory powers to make arrest and detain people, such powers must be exercised within the ambits of the law.
He held that the police failed to establish that the Peace Corps officials committed a crime before they arrested and detained them.
The judge said that the allegations by the police and other respondents that the Peace Corps was engaging in military and paramilitary training was not sufficiently established before him to justify their unlawful action.
According to the judge, the allegation of extortion of money and the alleged threat to national security made against the Peace Corps officials was not backed with any document from the victims.
He also faulted the claim by the police that it invaded the Peace Corps house based on intelligence report.
He described the claim as amorphous as there was no evidence before the court to justify it.
The judge held that the Peace Corps, as a lawfully registered organisation, was entitled to own movable and immovable property and that under no circumstance should any security agent deny the corps this right.
He, therefore, ordered the police to pay N12.5 million to the Peace Corps officials in order to appease them for the harassment and intimidation they suffered when they were unlawfully arrested and detained.
He also ordered that the headquarters of the corps, sealed in the last nine months be unsealed.
The judge further ordered that no attempt should be made by any of the respondents to frustrate officials of the Peace Corps from accessing the building to carry out their duties.
The Peace Corps in March, instituted the suit against the Police, the Inspector-General of Police and the National Security Adviser.
Other respondents in the suit were the State Security Services and its Director-General and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
The corps was asking the court for an order directing the respondents to pay N2 billion as compensation for its officials who were injured during the invasion of its premises.
The compensation was also a remedy to the violation of their fundamental rights which the corps said was violated by their arrest and detention without a valid court order.
The suit is separate from the ongoing trial of the Peace Corps leader, Dickson Akoh.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how on Wednesday, the police replaced the 90-count charge against Mr. Akoh with a 13-count charge.
During that trial on Wednesday, the Nigerian Police brought an application to seal the National Headquarters of the Peace Corps, the same one Justice Kolawole on Thursday ordered reopened.
The corps, through its counsel, Kanu Agabi, had filed a motion on notice on October 6, 2017, seeking an order of the court to unseal the building located at No 57 Iya Abubakar Crescent, off Alex Ekwueme way, opposite Jabi Lake, Jabi, Abuja.
In a motion by J. Idachaba, the police claimed the property of the Peace Corps was ill gotten and should not only be sealed by the order of the court, but it should also be temporarily forfeited.
He denied the allegations that the office had been sealed ab initio, saying the defendant could not produce any evidence to compel the court to believe that the office was sealed.
The presiding judge, John Tsoho, reserved judgement till January 15, 2017, on the respective applications submitted by both the Corps and the Nigerian Police.
The Peace Corps, a registered non-governmental organisation, seeks to be legalised as a government paramilitary agency and has secured the backing of the two chambers of the National Assembly for it.