The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami; the police, the Department of State Services, and others, on Wednesday, admitted that the 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, the DSS 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 the PCN 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 grounds 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 the 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.”
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 that Peace Corps was a legally registered body, but maintained that being registered did not confer immunity on it from investigation and prosecution.
According to Igbodo, the Peace Corps was registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission as a non-governmental organisation under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act.
He alleged that the group was acting beyond its mandates and objects of its registration.
The counsel stated that 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 the PCN and Akoh.
Igbodo added that the AGF preferred 90 counts of money laundering, obtaining by false pretences, 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 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 thePeace Corps is registered as an NGO under Part C of CAMA. It can operate as 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.
“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 aligned with Igbodo’s line of arguments.
Arguing in support of his clients’ counter-affidavit, filed on May 19, 2017, Koleosho said that being legally registered did not confer immunity from arrest and prosecution on Peace Corps.
He stated, “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.
The 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.
The court will rule on the PCN rights enforcement suit on July 6.