UPDATED: Court adjourns trial of Peace Corps commandant indefinitely

National Commandant of the Nigerian Peace Corps, Dickson Akoh
National Commandant of the Nigerian Peace Corps, Dickson Akoh

The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday adjourned the trial of the Commandant of Peace Corps, Dickson Akoh, indefinitely.

The judge, John Tsoho, said the decision was because the police refused to obey a previous ruling on the matter.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the court ruled that the Peace Corps headquarters in Abuja be unsealed, with the police refusing to obey the ruling. The building remains sealed by the police.

Mr Akoh, who was present at Tuesday’s hearing, is facing trial on allegations of fraud brought against him by the Nigeria Police.

Security operatives had sealed the Peace Corps office in Abuja, after arresting its commandant and 49 other staff in February 2017.

The Peace Corps is registered as a non-governmental organisation but sought to become a paramilitary agency. Although the National Assembly passed a bill to that effect, President Muhammadu Buhari refused to sign it.

Efforts by the lawmakers to veto the president on the decision also failed.

After sealing the Peace Corps building in Abuja, the police approached the court with a request to legalise the action.

But the judge, John Tsoho, in a ruling delivered in January faulted the police for approaching the court after acting without regard to the rule of law.

According to Mr Tsoho, section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) states that “an application for stay of proceeding in respect of a criminal matter before the court shall not be entertained.”

He said Section 396 of the same Act also states that “upon arraignment of the defendant, trial shall proceed day to day until the conclusion of the trial.

“There is no doubt that these provisions are meant to achieve the objective of the ACJA 2015 as stated in section 1(1), which is to ensure speedy dispensation of justice,” the judge said.

Mr Tsoho said the stated purpose of the law is laudable and where the respondent’s hearing seeks reliance on the provisions that promote same, then it is hoped that the respondent desires adherence to the rule of law.

“In this suit, there is basis in the applicant seeking an indefinite adjournment of this matter to compel the respondent to obey orders made by this competent court of law,” he said, however.

“It is observed that the respondent, according to paragraph 4C and D of its counter affidavit, merely observed that 7 and 9 of the applicant’s affidavit are false and misleading.”

The judge added that the respondent did not elaborate as to how and why those specific requirements were misleading.

“The effect of this therefore is an ironic situation where a respondent only complies with provisions of the law only when it suits it.

“However, the situation in ideal circumstances should not be that way. It is often said that justice is not for party and hence, it is a multi-edged sword,” he said.

This he said was clearly alluded to in section 1(1) of the ACJA 2015, which in stating the purpose of the Act, provides among other things that it is to ensure “speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of suspects, the defendant and the victim.

“It is obvious that with this, the provisions of the ACJA, which the respondent seeks compliance with, give recognition not just to the rights and the interest of the complainant but also to those of the defendant.”

According to Mr Tsoho, by virtue of section 36(6b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, the defendant is entitled to adequate time and opportunity to prepare his defence.

“The office of the defendant has been sealed for over one year, whereas some of the facilities needed for the defendant are locked there, hence making him severely disadvantaged,” he said.

“This position serves as pointer that the defendant’s refusal to comply with court further translates to violations of the defendant’s constitutional rights stated in section 36(6b) thereof to be given adequate time and facility for the preparations of their defence,” he said.

The court therefore adjourned the matter indefinitely, pending when the police obey the court orders.

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