The national commandant of the Nigerian Peace Corps, Dickson Akoh, has defended his supporters who clashed with the police in a bid to forcibly regain control of the headquarters of the paramilitary group on Thursday.
Security agencies sealed the group’s head office in Abuja in February 2017, taking Mr. Akoh and over 40 other Peace Corps leaders into custody on allegations that they committed fraud and constituted a national security threat.
The police kept the accused in custody for several days before they were eventually arraigned at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court. The court granted all the accused bail after taking their pleas.
However, the Peace Corps countersued for fundamental rights enforcement and claiming damages. Mr. Akoh also prayed the court to order the police to vacate its office.
At least two federal judges have ruled in favour of the Peace Corps and asked the police to leave the group’s office and stop harassing its members, but the police ignored the court orders, saying they had filed an appeal.
But Mr. Akoh said the police did not file an appeal or a notice of a stay of execution. PREMIUM TIMES could not immediately confirm whether the police appealed the rulings or not. Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, promised to make details of the appeal available to PREMIUM TIMES, but has yet to do so weeks later.
Apparently angered by the police’s tactics, members of the Peace Corps have been making efforts to enforce the law by themselves.
Three weeks ago, they made an unsuccessful attempt to take over the building overlooking the Jabi Lake along Alex Ekwueme Way. Mr. Akoh said his supporters backed down because the police told him that the office would be reopened within a week, but Sadiq Bello, Abuja police commissioner, denied giving such assurances when asked by PREMIUM TIMES.
The attempt was made after the expiration of a 48-hour ultimatum which a House of Representatives committee gave the police on to vacate the office.
Shortly after 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, Mr. Akoh and his supporters made another attempt to take over their office. This time, they were joined by Charly Boy, Deji Adeyanju and other civil rights activists who have picketed several agencies around Abuja in recent months.
“This is our country, we would have no place to call our own or go to if we allow our system to erode,” Charly Boy said during the attempted takeover. “We won’t allow the Inspector-General of Police or anyone to give the youth reasons to resort to self-help or anarchy”.
The supporters, numbering hundreds, initially made their way into the premises by overpowering the officers manning a police truck that had been stationed outside the building since it was seized a year ago.
The officers, however, called for a reinforcement and the protesters were soon dispersed.
Mr. Akoh said the action was not a break in but an enforcement of a series of court pronouncements which asked the police to end their year-long siege at the group’s head office.
“The property is our property so there was nothing like a break-in,” Mr. Akoh told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview at his office Thursday evening. “We were only there to enforce different court judgements that ordered the police to vacate the building.”
“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,” he added. “We’re supposed to be a nation of law.”
Mr. Bello told PREMIUM TIMES that the police officers did not physically assault the Peace Corps today, but said he urged Mr. Akoh and his supporters to desist from taking the laws into their hands.
Mr. Akoh confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that he spoke with the commissioner after the attempted takeover, but said the police chief only asked him to direct all complaints relating to the closure to the Force Headquarters.
The latest stand-off comes as the National Assembly is preparing to review President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Peace Corps Bill.
The Peace Corps Bill has been passed by the National Assembly since last year, but the presidency only recently vetoed it, citing a lack of finance and potential security implication of creating another paramilitary group.
Several government agencies are strongly against the legalisation of the Peace Corps as a federal establishment, saying the group has no unique value that dozens of existing agencies don’t already offer.
Yet, thousands of Nigerian youth are keenly interested in seeing the group, which was initially registered as a non-governmental organisation, become a federal agency.