A coalition of Civil Society Organisations decision to go to the head office of Peace Corps of Nigeria (PCN) to enforce Justice Gabriel Kolawole’s court order, has raised questions as to whether a non court official can execute judgement, as ELEOJO IDACHABA examines in this report
Since February 28, 2017, the head office of Peace Corps of Nigeria(PCN) located at Number 57, Iya Abubakar Crescent, off Alex Ekwueme way, in the Jabi area of Abuja has been under siege. The police had earlier raided the premises at midnight and arrested Mr Dickson Akoh, the Commander-General of PCN and 49 others, over alleged formation of an illegal security outfit which the cops claimed is a potential security threat.
The police also accused the suspects of collecting money from applicants seeking to enlist into the corps. Ironically, the arrest was made a day after both Houses of the National Assembly jointly passed the bill for the establishment of the corps, which is presently awaiting Presidential assent. That night, Dickson and the 49 others were in a celebratory mood when the police came calling.
Police justify the arrest
While justifying the arrest, Force Public Relations Officer, (FPRO) Jimoh Moshood had alleged that, “credible intelligence reports at the disposal of the Force revealed that some of these illegal security outfits have started acquiring weapons and conducting covert military training in different locations across the country.’’ The Corps, according to him, “has no legal authority to wear uniform, parade itself as security outfit, post their personnel on guard duties and use ranking, insignia, badges of rank which are semblance of that of the police, military and other paramilitary organisations without the approval of the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
In his defence, Akor had denied the accusations as he argued that PCN is neither a security threat nor was it collecting money from anyone in search of employment. According to him, the Corps merely seeks to empower youths in order to re-direct their minds from criminal tendencies.
The corps, he further said, is a law-abiding institution. Lamenting their arrest, Ako said, ‘’If law enforcement agencies could do what they did to us that day, then we shouldn’t blame armed robbers for invading homes.’’ Notwithstanding, he and his co-accused remained behind bars but subsequently, they were arraigned to court.
Falana challenges detention
Since then, there have been series of legal fireworks in the courts over the propriety of the police raid. In March, Mr Femi Falana(SAN), a Lagos-based lawyer threatened the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris with a law suit if he does not recall his men from further occupying that premises. According to Falana, “The combined team of police officers and security agents who claimed that they are on surveillance mission on the official headquarters and other offices of our client across the federation should be withdrawn there from immediately.”
Falana noted that the courts had earlier made it clear that the police or any other government institutions lack the powers to proscribe any organisation without a court order. He said the Corps is not an illegal organisation as it was duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. In spite of Falana’s threat, the police authorities refused to withdraw their men.
The landmark judgment
However, reprieve came the way of the Corps on November 9, 2017 when the Federal High Court in Abuja, presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, delivered a landmark judgment against the action of the police. Justice Kolawole, in that judgment, noted that the Police and other security agents that invaded the premises of the Corps were reckless in their actions and that they acted outside their statutory powers.
According to him, they should not have acted the way and manner they carried out the arrest of the PCN officials and barricaded their office. He, therefore, ordered them to immediately open the Peace Corps office and also ordered the Police to pay N12.5 million to PCN as compensation for unlawful arrest and detention of its officials.
Justice Kolawale noted that even though the Police and other security agents have statutory powers to make arrests and detain people, he maintained that such powers must be exercised within the ambits of the law. According to him, the Police failed to establish evidence that officials of the Corps committed a crime before they were arrested and detained. For this reason, police allegations that the corps engaged in military and paramilitary training was not sufficiently established before him to justify what he called their ‘unlawful’ action. Also, he said the allegation of extortion of money and the alleged threat to national security were not backed with any document extracted from the suspects.
Police disobey court order, CSOs enforce judgement
In sheer disregard for this landmark judgment, the police refused to vacate the premises of PCN. However, a coalition of civil society groups, numbering 15 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), stormed the headquarter of the corp. Upon reaching there, they met some police men at the gate and the activists told that they were there to effect Justice Kolawole’s court order, asking police to leave the premises of PCN. According to eyewitnesses, the police didn’t offer any resistance and the CSOs removed the Honda Civic model car that was used to barricade the gate. Afterwards, they entered the premises of the Peace Corps headquarters but they couldn’t get into the building as it was under lock and key. According to reports, the police at the gate signaled headquarters and more reinforcements arrived the PCN office.
Our correspondent learnt that the new arrivals neither accosted the activists nor manhandled them. Blueprint Weekend learnt that the cops approach was civil, when the CSOs told them their intention. In the end, the activists left without really ‘’effecting the court order’’ and the police were still left guarding the PCN office.
Lawyers back, criticize CSOs
The action of the CSOs has elicited different legal opinions. According to Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), in every court of law, there are court sheriffs that implement court judgments and not any individual or groups. He said, “I do not want to go into the details of the matter but that is what the law says. There are sheriffs of the court that implement court decisions. Nobody is, so far, empowered to carry out court decisions otherwise there would be abuses here and there but like I said earlier, I don’t want to be dragged into the details of this.”
Similarly, Barrister Esther Uzoma, a rights activist and national co-ordinator of Proactive Gender Initiatives, agrees with Keyamo. According to her, whenever there is a court judgment, there is always an Execution Unit that carries out the rulings.
“For anyone to decide to carry out a court ruling is like usurping the role of those constitutionally mandated to carry out the task. Although it depends on the steps taken by either party to the suit, but on a general note, civil society groups cannot execute court judgments because there is an Execution Unit of every court that carries out enforcements.”
However, Falana was non-committal but said that a court order must be obeyed. He, however, declined to be taken further on the matter.
Nevertheless, in justifying its position, leader of the coalition, Barrister Edward Omaga, who is the President of Lawyers Integrity Crusade Network, told Blueprint Weekend said their action was in line with past precedents, especially when in August 2017, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi won its case at the Supreme Court against the same police which took over its premises for almost a year. “Did the party wait for the court bailiff before they took over their office? No, they went straight there that day and resumed to celebrate their victory since the court so pronounced it,’’ he recalled.
According to him, a court bailiff delivered a copy of Justice Kolawole’s judgment to the police but they failed to comply. In addition, the office of Kanu Agabi, counsel to the corps delivered a copy of the judgment to the Force Headquarter but the police refused to obey the ruling. “When we confronted them on November 13, one David Igbodo, a CP in the Legal Department annoyingly told us that they were still studying the judgment. That, to us, is perversion of justice. We are determined to ensure that impunity associated with how court rulings were glaringly violated in the past are corrected.”
Omaga said that although the police were civil the day the CSOs went to carry out the court order but they have brazenly refused to vacate the premises and they have not appealed against the judgment. The next move, he said, would be a mass protest in Abuja days to come.