By Isaac Shobayo
The Peace Corps of Nigeria, for quite some time, has had a running battle with the Nigeria Police over its status. The National Commandant of the Corps, Dickson Akor, in this interview with Isaac Shobayo, speaks on the raging controversy and the litigation trailing it.
What is the status of the Peace Corps now after its recent face -off with the Nigeria Police?
Before now, we had a cordial relationship between the two bodies. But suddenly, during the tenure of the former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ogbonaya Onovo, the relationship went sour and the situation has been so since 2009. We have been trying our best as a peace-making organisation to explore every means of seeking understanding, but the police authorities were adamant, and that informed our going to court to institute legal action against the police in an attempt to enforce our fundamental human right.
When the State Security Service (SSS) clamped down on us in 2003 and did not allow us to operate for four years, the police were the ones that prevailed on the SSS to drop the charges against us, saying that our organisation was backed by law.
Your organisation was in court with the police after the latter recently invaded most of your offices in the country, carting away most of the valuables. Was that the reason you went to court?
The problem originated from a circular by the IGP sent to all the police formations across the country. At the time the circular was sent, the IGP had just resumed. The issue was brought to his knowledge and, based on his previous knowledge of the happenings between the police and the Peace Corps, he just assumed that our organisation had been proscribed.
However, we instituted a court action against the IGP and the Attorney General of the Federation and the court gave an order based on the merit of our prayers that the status-quo should be maintained and the police was restrained from further action.
The current Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Auta, recently warned the police, contending that it is only in Nigeria that when a matter is in court, you will see a party still taking further actions that would jeopardise the interest of the other party. We expected that, as a law enforcement agency, the police would be the first to obey an order of court because you cannot enforce the law before obeying the law.
The Attorney General of the Federation wrote them letters on two occasions that they must obey the court order. The Federal High Court in Maiduguri gave a judgment and declared that the attacks by the police against the Peace Corps were unconstitutional and illegal. On a good authority, we learnt that somebody, who was dismissed from our organisation for an act of insubordination, used his father, a senior police officer working with the Force CID. The man was the one that wrote a fictitious petition to the late President Musa Yar’Adua.
As at the time the petition was tabled before the president, he was incapacitated and somebody from the office of the Chief of Staff just put a covering letter, alerting the National Security Adviser (NSA) to the content of that petition, which was endorsed by former IGP Onovo. And just within a day, an action was taken against the Peace Corps across the nation by the police. The action was not taken rationally. If a petition is written against a body in a civilised system, the subject of the petition must be summoned and be given a right of defence, but that was not done.
What are the aims and objectives of your organisation?
Our activities are committed to national development, creativity and youth development. When I came up with the concept of this organisation, I had conducted a deep research about the state of our youths in this country, especially the young school leavers. The Economic Commission for West Africa (ECOWAS) had released a damning report that many Nigerian youths who graduated from either secondary or tertiary institutions never have gainful employment. Many in this category either go into criminality or into oil bunkering, and according to the report, the female ones that could not get employment end up being prostitutes. So, to change this trend, we must find means of pre-occupying them.
If you don’t pay them much salary, the little you are paying them will sustain them to some degree. We have what we called Alternative Employment Scheme to take care of these jobless youths. The scheme is to bridge the gap between when they don’t have anything to do and when they would secure permanent employment. We believe that as we pre-occupy them, they would not have time to engage themselves in any crime. The organization is established with a mission and vision to educate and re-orient the youths for future leadership roles. Since the inception of this organization, nobody has been able to link it to any crime. You can only hear spurious allegations by the police in the media, Despite the harassments we still see the police as a senior partner in progress because we don’t bear arms. We always look up to the Police, and that is why we had written several letters to the police hierarchy. We had also approached the office of the Attorney General of the Federal and the National Security Adviser seeking amicable resolution of the impasse. What is happening is calculated attempt to frustrate activities of our organization. We know what happened to the Civil Defense Corps, it came into existence in 1967 during the civil war to protect the civilian populace, and we know what happened to the organization between that time and 2003 when their bill was eventually passed. The Police, indeed, made moves for the organization to be disbanded. As the Civil Defense overcame, we believe that we shall overcome despite the intimidation and harassment by the police.