By Yemi Itodo
Despite the setback suffered by Nigerian Peace Corps Bill at the House of Representatives, on Thursday, a Federal High Court in Abuja, has declared that the Corps was a “lawfully registered organization that has the rights to carry out its programs in the country within the ambit of the law.
This was contained in a judgement delivered Friday by Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed, in a fundamental human rights enforcement suit instituted against the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in 2013 by the Incorporated Trustees of Peace Corps of Nigeria (PCN).
The PCN had approached the court in 2013, when the NSCDC clampdown on its formation in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, arresting the FCT commandant and confiscating the uniforms and other items of the court.
Also joined in the suit were the Commandant-General of the NSCDC and one Aminu Abdullahi Kesoro.
The plaintiff had prayed the court to declare as illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional the interference of the civil defence with activities of Peace Corps officers and men posted to secondary schools and colleges who have partnership with the PCN.
Justice Mohammed in the judgment that lasted two hours, condemned the action of the civil defense, describing it as “barbaric”, “uncivilized”, “unlawful” and “unconstitutional”, adding that the civil defence acted ultra vires.
The court therefore restrained the NSCDC from molesting, harassing, intimidating and threatening officers and men of the Peace Corps of Nigeria (PCN) in all the states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
The court also barred civil defence from interfering in the lawful activities of the Peace Corps in the 36 states of the federation and Abuja and as well stopping the NSCDC from attempting to seize uniforms of officers and men of the Peace Corps.
Justice Mohammed prohibited civil defence, its agents, privies under any guise from taking any action that will infringe on the fundamental rights of the officers and men of the Peace Corps in the country.
The Judge held that the clampdown constituted abuse of power and breach of the fundamental rights of the Peace Corps officers and men as enshrined under section 34 of the 1999 Constitution.
Justice Mohammed, who in the judgment frowned at the hostile attitude of the civil defence against the Peace Corps, also prohibited the NSCDC, its Commandant General, officers, their agents and privies from obstructing the Peace Corps officers and men lawfully posted to schools across the country for the purpose of providing security for the schools.
He therefore granted an order of perpetual injunction against the civil defense from threatening, harassing, molesting, intimidating and disrupting the activities of the Peace Corps officers and men in their lawful official duties.
Reacting to the judgment, the National Commandant of Peace Corps of Nigeria, Amb. (Dr.) Dickson Akoh, thanked the judiciary for ensuring that the rule of law prevailed in the dispute.
He said the NSCDC infringed on the fundamental rights of his men with unlawful clampdown on them and seizure of their uniforms in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in 2013 as well as dispatching the officers of the Corps who were posted to secondary schools for primary assignment.
“I thank the judiciary for standing tall in the face of intimidation; it is a thing of joy that the judiciary has remained resolute, focused and unshaken in the dispensation of justice. We hold judiciary in high esteem”, Akoh said.
Akoh who was not happy with refusal of police to vacate the corporate headquarters of his organization in spite of several court orders, remarked that the siege laid on the edifice in Abuja for over a year now, is not only on Peace Corps alone but on the judiciary too.
He said “The rule of law as the bastion of democracy must not be ridiculed by anybody or organization with impunity as doing so portends great danger for the nation.
“It is very unfortunate that some agencies of the government have reduced the judiciary to a council square.
“It is an affront on the judiciary and the rule of law for an agency of the government to choose which judgement to obey or not”.
Akoh urged the police to have a rethink on their disobedience to court orders, adding that the police leadership should learn to respect the law, since police itself is a creation of law.