Dickson Akoh is the national commandant of the Nigerian Peace Corps. His quest to make the group become a federal agency has the backing of the National Assembly, but is opposed by the Buhari administration.
Mr. Akoh, 44, has clashed repeatedly with security agencies since 2003 when he started agitating for government adoption of the organisation.
A year ago, the police, with personnel support from the Army and the State Security Service, stormed the Peace Corps head office in Abuja and shut it down.
A police truck manned by four officers has remained at the entrance of the building since then, in defiance of court orders and intervention of the National Assembly. The police accused Mr. Akoh of running a militia and an employment racket, a claim the commandant denied.
The National Assembly passed the Peace Corps Bill last year, but Mr. Buhari rejected it, citing security and financial implications. The lawmakers have, however, vowed to press on with the bill, saying they will override the president’s veto.
Meanwhile, the commandant has continued to mount pressure on the police to obey the court orders and vacate the Peace Corps office. Within the past three weeks, he has mobilised Peace Corps members and supporters to take over the building without success.
Mr. Akoh had a brief exchange with PREMIUM TIMES’ Samuel Ogundipe a few hours after the latest attempt to take back his office on January 8.
PT: The last you tried to enforce the court order at your office, you backed down after the FCT police commissioner spoke with you over the telephone. Who convinced you to back down this time?
Akoh: The command takes instructions from the inspector-general of police, that is what the commissioner said.
And because we don’t want any altercations, we just decided to leave there so that we can meet with our lawyers and take the next step forward. He appealed that we should just leave so that we’ll follow up through the normal procedure.
PT: Did you consult with your lawyer before making efforts to forcibly regain your office? Were you not trying to take the laws into your own hands by this?
Akoh: We didn’t enter there forcefully because that’s our own premises. The property is our property so there was nothing like a break-in. We were only there to enforce different court judgements that ordered the police to vacate the building.
The Federal High Court, as you may know, has given two different judgments. We also have the support of the members of the House of Representatives who asked the police to obey court rulings and vacate our office within 48 hours. We’re supposed to be a nation of law.
So we felt that if Federal High Court has given this order and they’ve not appealed it, even the one that they claim to have appealed, they’ve not filed application for stay. So we felt with what happened at the House of Reps, we need not take permission from the police before we go there, bearing in mind that the affidavit they swore before Justice Owoh, they said they never sealed there —that they just placed surveillance to stop breakdown of law and order.
We told them we didn’t want to cause any trouble but when they resisted, we left.
PT: The National Assembly is behind you in this. And there have been signals that the lawmakers are going to override the president’s veto. Why don’t you just tarry a while and let them fight the fight for you?
Akoh: The lawmakers are working to ensure that the bill is given effect. And as far as we are concerned, if they have raised the issue and passed judgement, these people ought to obey the judgement.
After the passage of the bill in both chambers of the National Assembly, a tape started circulating on social media about the IGP in a meeting swearing that he will forestall presidential assent to the bill.
Some of the lawmakers don’t want to go against the president by overriding his veto and are suggesting that members of the Peace Corps be collapsed into several security agencies like the Police, Civil Defence, etc.
PT: Would you accept that compromise if its reached by the executive and the legislature?
Akoh: Dissolving members of the Peace Corps into other security agencies doesn’t have to do with me as an individual, it has to to do with the corps as a legal entity and every member enjoys the liberty to migrate to any agency.
In fact the aim is to create employment for these youth. After that day, we have been appealing to the president. From our record and from information we got, he was misled. Ours is to continue appealing.
But dissolving members of the Corps is like fixing a cow head on a goat. It may not work out because the orientations are different.
Our kind of orientation is for peace building, creativity, innovations, nation building, community services, humanitarian services and so on. We don’t give our members security training.
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