From Molly Kilete, Abuja
Barely 24 hours after the Peace Corps of Nigeria inaugurated its headquarters with fanfare, the police, in a joint operation with the military and Department of State Services (DSS), yesterday, raided the organisation’s office, arresting its leader and 49 others.
Parading The Peace Corps commandant, Dickson Akor and others arrested at the Force Headquarters, in Abuja, the Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, said they were arrested to halt and rid the country of illegal/unlawful security outfits constituting national security threats and threats to the protection of life and property across the country.
The police, in conjunction with the military and DSS, had stormed the head office of the Peace Corps of Nigeria Abuja, recovered some items and sealed the building. They also arrested Akor and 49 others.
He said the Peace Corps had unlawfully turned itself into a Security outfit without authorization and establishment by the federal government and deviated from the purposes for which they were registered as a Non Governmental Organization, by the Corporate Affairs Commission.
Jimoh, said credible intelligence at the disposal of the police revealed that some of these illegal security outfits have started acquiring weapons and conducting covert military training in different locations across the country.
He also said that intelligence report showed that sub-service elements/groups and terrorists affiliates have infiltrated the Peace Corps secretly to ruin and destroy the existing peace currently being enjoyed in the country.
Revealing that the police have also shut training camps of the peace corps at Kwara and Niger states as well as the Federal Capital Territory, the Force PRO, who was flanked by personnel from the Nigerian Army and DSS during press briefing and parade of the 50 arrested people, said the organization has no legal backing to operate and therefore poses a security threat.
He said the peace corps has no legal authority to wear uniform, parades itself as a security outfit, post personnel on guards duties and use badges of ranks similar to the police, military and other para-military organisations without the approval of the federal government.
“The Nigerian Police Force and otter security agencies will not fold their arms and allow lawlessness to be unleashed on the society,” he said.
Jimoh said aside equipping members with unauthorised uniform and other military attires, the peace corps has been extorting money from unsuspecting youths, in the guise of recruitment, ranging from N50, 000 to N100, 000.
He called on those who must have paid the illegal fee to report to the nearest police station.
The police spokesman, who said government’s official gazette in 2013, had officially dissolved and proscribed illegal security outfits, like the Nigerian Maritime and Security Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Merchant Navy Corps and Nigerian Merchant Navy Petroleum Security and Safety Corps, Peace Corps of Nigeria and other quasi-illegal outfits, however noted that these organisations have continued to operate outside their mandate.
He said: “For the avoidance of doubt, the Peace Corps of Nigeria under the leadership of one Dickson Akon, was registered as an NGO, but with brazen impunity, total disregard to the laws of the Federal Republic on Nigeria opened illegal training camps in some states of the country, where thousands of youths and other persons without proper background checks and screening are receiving covert military training.
“It is consequent upon the above and veracity of intelligence reports from reliable sources indicating that sub-service elements/group and terrorists affiliates have infiltrated the Peace Corps of Nigeria secretly to ruin and destroy the existing peace currently being enjoyed in the country that the Peace Corps of Nigeria secret training camps were closed down in the FCT, Kwara and Niger states.”
In an interview with journalists, Akor, who insisted his organisation was not only recognised in the country but also internationally, said it was a shame that the police and the military were belittling themselves to rubbish the good intention of the corps to better the lives of the teeming Nigerian youths.
Akor, who lambasted the police for swooping on his organisation, said: “It a shame that we have serious security challenges and you are showing our uniforms as exhibit. The constitution of the Peace Corps is enlisted in the form as approved by the Corporate Affairs Commission and properly vetted by the security agencies before we were registered in 1998. Further more, there is national youth development policy that spelt out for youth uniform organisation to operate.
“We have not done anything wrong to disrupt the security of this country. You have never told the public where we posted people to do guard duty.
We are an NGO, up to the level that United Nations and the African Union have accorded us recognition and the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“We have been operating strictly within our scope. This corps is to reorient the youths. It is aimed at changing them because they need a platform to change. You are just out to instigate the youths against me.”
On the allegation of collecting money from applicants willing to join the corps, Akor, said: “It is voluntary. We do not force anybody to bring money to us.”
Akor said during the raid of his office early yesterday, the police brutalised some of his staff, who are now lying critically ill at the hospital.
He also alleged that since his arrest, he had not been given anything to eat, and that the police had denied his lawyers from gaining access to him.
Also during the parade, some female personnel, who were mostly nursing mothers, had pleaded with the police to allow them have access to their babies. One of the female members, who spoke on behalf of her colleagues, said: “Excuse me, Sir. My name is Amao Aminat. Yesterday at the time they came, they took my phones, my laptop and ipad. I pleaded that they should allow me talk to my family.
“I have a little baby I left at the crèche and she is still there. I am supposed to talk to my IPO, and I have been begging them to help me call my family, but nobody is talking to me. We have other mothers here and none of our family members knows where we are up till now.”
When asked what the police would do in respect of the breast feeding mothers among the arrested Peace Corps members, the FPRO, said even though they were not with their children at the time of their arrest, the police would look into their matter to ascertain if truly they are nursing mothers and take necessary action.
The police spokesman, who said investigation was ongoing, hinted that the suspects would be charged to court as soon as investigation was concluded.