Confession! Peace Corps legal – AGF, IGP, DSS
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami; the police, the Department of State Service, and others, on Wednesday, conceded that Peace Corps of Nigeria was a legally registered organisation but alleged that the group was engaging in criminal activities.
They said this before a Federal High Court in Abuja while opposing a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed by the Incorporated Trustees of the Peace Corps of Nigeria, its National Commandant, Dickson Akoh, and 48 members of the group.
Meanwhile, Peace Corps and Akoh are currently being prosecuted by the Office of the AGF on fraud charges before another judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice John Tsoho.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole, after hearing all parties to the rights enforcement suit on Wednesday, fixed noon of July 6 for judgment.
The plaintiffs are through their suit seeking N2bn as compensation for the embarrassment allegedly caused the Peace Corps of Nigeria and its incorporated trustees “by the arrest and detention of its personnel carried out in a commando style by the security operatives” in March this year.
The defendants to the suit are the Nigeria Police, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris; the AGF, the National Security Adviser, Babagaba Monguno, Department of State Service and its Director-General, Mr.Lawal Daura.
Arguing, the plaintiffs’ case on Wednesday, their lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), alleged that while the matter filed on March 8, 2017, was pending before the court, the police and the IGP took over the premises of the group.
Urging the court to grant all the 14 prayers of his clients, Agabi said the main question which the court had to determine was whether Peace Corps of Nigeria was a legitimate organisation.
He said, “That is a point that is conceded to by the defendants.
“The only thing they said was that it was an organisation engaging in activities which were military or paramilitary in nature.
“The contention that the activities are military or paramilitary in nature was not substantiated.
“On the ground that they are unable to substantiate their allegations alone, your lordship is entitled to grant our prayers.”
He also alluded to various exhibits, including previous court judgments, police report of investigation and correspondences, which he said all indicated that the activities of the organisation of Peace Corps were legal.
He added, “I crave your lordship’s indulgence to grant our prayers, that we be allowed to continue the good work we are doing and your hand is strengthened by the judgments we have referenced.”
Responding, counsel for the police and the IGP, Mr. David Igbodo, who informed the judge that he filed a 20-paragraph counter affidavit on March 21 opposing the suit, urged the court to dismiss the legal action for being academic.
He said it was not in contention that Peace Corps was a legally registered body, but maintained that being registered did not confer immunity from investigation and prosecution on the organisation.
According to Igbodo, Peace Corps was registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission as a non-governmental organisation under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act.
But he said the group was acting beyond its mandates and objects of its registration.
He said the police arrested Akoh for criminal offences and sent the case file to the AGF who vetted the file and decided to prefer charges against Peace Corp and Akoh.
He said the AGF preferred 90 counts of money laundering, obtaining by false pretence, operating illegal security outfit and training of militias against the defendants.
He said since the criminal case was pending before another judge, Justice John Tsoho, the court hearing the fundamental rights enforcement lacked the authority to determine whether or not the plaintiffs committed the crime they were accused of.
Insisting that Peace Corps acted outside its mandates, Igbodo said, a judgment delivered on January 22, 2010, among others exhibited by the plaintiffs all clearly stated that “a lawful organisation cannot be allowed to act illegality”.
He said, “What I’m saying in effect is that Peace Corps is registered as an NGO under Part C of CAMA. It can operate a an NGO.
“By way of summary, the fact is that if the NGO is found to be committing criminal offences, it does not enjoy immunity.
“The police have the power to investigate allegations of crime.”
Igbodo said all the exhibits tendered by the plaintiffs, including a photograph, showing Akoh having a hand-shake with the IGP were all irrelevant.
He said, “That he has a handshake with the IG is irrelevant.
“With the authority of Gani Fawehinmi Vs IGP, even those who enjoy immunity can be investigated.
“All the exhibits attached by the plaintiffs are irrelevant.
“What is relevant is that the NGO is operating outside its mandate; that the NGO is committing a crime against the land. That is the issue.
“What is relevant now is whether the NGO has committed a crime and with due respect sir, it is not the duty of this court to determine, it is your brother in Court 3 (Justice Tsoho) that can determine that.
“In conclusion, we urge your lordship to dismiss the application as it is purely academic.”
Counsel for the rest of the respondents – the AGF, the DSS, the DG of DSS and the NSA – Mr. Oyin Koleosho, also toed the same line of arguments.
Arguing in support of his clients’ counter-affidavit filed on May 19, 2017, Koleosho said, being legally registered did not confer immunity from arrest and prosecution on Peace Corps.
He said, “We submit that the fact that the first applicant is regarded as a legal entity does not mean that act bordering on criminality cannot come up subsequently.
“In effect, the judgments relied upon, the various correspondences including the legal advice from the AGF and even the handshake with the IGP cannot amount to immunity from suspicion, arrest and prosecution.”
He also maintained that the plaintiffs were justifiably arrested in line with the provisions of the Constitution and were not detained beyond 48 hours allowed by law.
Koleosho said, “In view of section 35(1)(c) of 1999 Constitution, the arrest and detention of the applicants cannot be said to be unlawful having been made upon the reasonable suspicion of commission of crime.
“In furtherance to this, a criminal case was instituted as can be seen in Exhibit AA which is the charge.
“We also want my Lord to note that in paragraph 15 of applicants’ supporting affidavit, it has been shown that the detention of the applicant does not exceed 48 hours.”
He also argued that the plaintiffs failed to exhibit their constitution registered with the CAC to enable the court to determine if they were entitled to “engage in recruitment activities, collection of fees from members of the public, wearing of uniform and doing such other things.”
Plaintiffs’ lawyer, Mr. John Ochogwu, who took over from Agabi (after Agabi left the court for another engagement), said while responding on points of law that the respondents failed to attach the report of intelligence activities which they claimed informed the basis of the arrest of the plaintiffs.
“It is either the report does not exist or exists but it is unfavourable to them and that is why they are withholding it from this honourable court,” he added.
He also said the respondents failed to exhibit the proof of evidence accompanying the 90 charges instituted against Akoh and Peace Corps to enable the court to determine the “the strength of the indictments”.Punch