A stopgap telephone conversation between the police commissioner in Abuja and the national commandant of the Nigerian Peace Corps has become the latest ground of contention in the year-long confrontation between the police and the paramilitary group.
The telephone exchange reportedly occurred on Thursday morning when the Peace Corps leaders, supporters and some activists marched to the organisation’s head office that the police sealed in Abuja nearly a year ago.
The Peace Corps leader, Dickson Akoh, told reporters that they were at the office to enforce two court pronouncements that mandated the security agencies to vacate their office.
But when police denied them access to the building, Mr. Akoh told reporters and others present that they would back down on their charge towards the building because the police commissioner has assured him that they would reopen it next week.
“The CP has intervened and we will disengage because we are peaceful people and their approach was very civil,” the News Agency of Nigeria quoted Mr. Akoh as saying.
But Sadiq Bello, FCT police commissioner, countered Mr. Akoh’s comments as untrue.
“We did not apologise to Peace Corps and we did not promise anyone that we will reopen their office next week,” Mr. Bello told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Thursday night.
The office, which overlooks the Jabi Lake Mall along Alex Ekwueme Way, was sealed on February 28, 2017, when the police, the State Security Service and some soldiers disrupted an ongoing meeting amongst Peace Corps leaders nationwide and made arrests.
About 40 Peace Corps top personnel were arrested during the raid, including Mr. Akoh, the group said at the time.
The police accused Mr. Akoh and his comrades of running an outlawed paramilitary organisation, advance fee fraud and other criminal charges.
The matter subsequently proceeded to court, but the police lost, twice. Two federal judges reprimanded the police and other security agencies for their action in separate proceedings between November 2017 and January 2018.
The judges also separately ordered the federal authorities to immediately reopen the Peace Corps office that was sealed and awarded pecuniary damages to Mr. Akoh and his group.
But the police ignored the court judgements, citing “interest of national security and public safety” in a January 16 statement to PREMIUM TIMES.
Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, also said in the statement that an appeal had been filed against the rulings and a stay of execution order procured, but he did not provide further details about the appeal when asked by PREMIUM TIMES.
Members of the House of Representatives’ public petitions committee also condemned the security agencies for ignoring court orders when they looked into the standoff on Tuesday. They demanded that the police reopen the place within 48 hours.
The deadline expired Thursday morning.
Millicent Umoru, a spokesperson for the Peace Corps, insisted to PREMIUM TIMES the police promised to reopen the office before the next parliamentary hearing on the matter, which is scheduled to hold on February 27.
Ms. Umoru said Mr. Akoh spoke with the commissioner through the mobile phone of an assistant superintendent of police who was sent to intervene when they tried to access the office on Thursday morning.
She further stated that the controversy was needless because Attorney-General Abubakar Malami had directed Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris to obey the court orders and unseal the Peace Corps headquarters.
Both Mr. Malami and his spokesperson, Saliu Isa, did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES requests seeking their comments about such intervention Thursday night.
The Peace Corps bill has been passed by the National Assembly since last year and is currently on President Muhammadu Buhari’s table awaiting ascent, the presidency said last month.
Mr. Buhari has largely kept his views about the Peace Corps away from the public, but an online poll by PREMIUM TIMES in January shows that more than two-thirds of readers want the president to sign the bill.
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