A Federal High Court in Abuja has awarded N12.5m as damages against the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the Inspector General of Police over heir violation of the rights of the leader of the Peace Corps of Nigeria (PCN) , Dickson Akoh and some of its members.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole gave the award on Thursady in a judgment on a fundamental right suit filed by Akoh and others.
Men of the NPF had on February 28 this year invaded the Abuja headquarters of the NPF, during its commissionin, and arrested Akoh and 49 other members of the group, who were later detained.
Akoh and others later challenged thair detention and the continued sealing of the PCN’s headquarters building in Abuja by the police by filing the fundamental rights enforcement suit and claiming N2billion damages.
They listed the NPF, IGP, the Attornery-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, the National Security Adviser, the Department of State Services (DSS) and its Director-General as respondents.
In the judgment yesterday, Justice Kolawole also ordered the police to immediately unseal the group’s headquarters at 57, Iya Abubakar Crescent, Off Alex Ekwueme Way, Opposite Jabi Lake, Jabi, Abuja.
The judge faulted the 90-count charge brought against the PCN and Akoh by the office of the AGF, but now pending before another judge of the same Federal High Court.
He said the charge, filed barely a week after the applicants instituted the rights enforcement suit, was aimed at shielding the respondents, including the police and the AGF from the aplicant’s suit.
Justice Kolawole was of the view that the police had no business sealing off the premises of Peace Corps, because the allegation that the group was operating a military or paramilitary outfit was not substantiated by the police.
The judge held, “I have seen the criminal charge filed before the Federal High Court and which has 90 counts and the counts relate to offences bordering on money laundering and advance fee fraud.
“There is no count in the information which has anything to do with running a military or paramilitary outfit. This allegation was itself found on the strength of an unproduced and unsubstantiated intelligence report.
“It is my view that if the allegation of the invasion of the first applicant’s (Peace Corps’) new office in the context of exhibits AA and NPF2 … the 1st and 2nd defendants (police and IGP) have not business to seal up the first applicant’s premises at 57, Iya Abubakar Crescent, Opposite Jabi Lake, Jabi, FCT, Abuja because none of the 90 counts produced as Exhibit AA or NPF2 has any direct or remote link to the said property.
“None of the counts, even if proved at the trial, is linked with acquisition, either by way of lease or outright purchase, of the said property at 57, Iya Abubakar Crescent, Off Alex Ekwueme Way, Opposite Jabi Lake, Jabi, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja,” the judge said.
Justice Kolawole said the two defendants in the charge were only charged with money laundering and advance fee fraud which if even proved would not attract the forfeiture of the property as punishment.
The judge said Peace Corps, being a body registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, “has the right to acquire movable and immovable property which shall not be sealed or taken away from them except in accordance with the due process of the law as encapsulated in section 43 and 44 of the Constitution.”
He ordered the police to immediately unseal the property. The judge also ordered that staff and members of the group must no longer be denied the right to access their offices located within the building.
The judge said: “Relief 6 ought to succeed in view of the success of relief 3 which has been granted.It , too, succeeds, and the respondents and in particular, the 1st and 2nd respondents, shall forthwith unseal the 1st applicant’s office at 57, Iya Abubakar Crescent, Off Alex Ekwueme Way, Opposite Jabi Lake, Jabi, FCT, Abuja.
“They shall cease to prohibit, in any manner, the applicants’ staff and members the right of access into and out of the said premises from today (Thursday).
“I am of the view that the applicants are entitled to general damages. The award of damages either special or general. Damages is an equitable remedy through which the court exercises it’s disciplinary powers.
“The award of damages in a suit such as this against state actors or institutions such as the respondents, must take into account the level and duration of the infraction complained of and of the available resources of the government.
“Nigeria has been in economic recession and was only getting out of the woods this year. When I look at the entire facts in this suit I am satisfied to assess the general damages against the respondents at N12.5m.
“The said general damages is awarded against the 1st and 2nd respondents who I have adjudged based on my assessment of the facts as the real antagonists to the legal existence and actions of the first applicant.”
The judge also held that AGF could not be freed of liability of the N12.5m damages even if he (the AGF) had not played any role in the events leading to the suit.
In justifying his decision as it relates to the AGF, the judge said by virtue of his constitutional status, the AGF is a proper respondent in action which calls for consideration the provision of the Constitution and constitutonallity of action of government or any of its agencies.
“The 6th respondent may not have played any role in the event that led to this action but is made a proper and desirable respondent because he is to give advice to the 1st and 2nd respondent to comply with the judgments of the court produced by the applicants obtained against the respondents at the different points in time.”
The judge however declined to grant the applicants’ reliefs that relate to the criminal case pending against Akoh and Peace Corps.
Meanwhile the office of the AGF, on Wednesday amended the charge now before Justice John Tsoho and reduced it’s counts to 13 from 90.
Also on Wednesday, Justice Tsoho adjourned to January 15 next year ruling on a motion by the office of the AGF for an order for temporary forfeiture of the PCN’s headquarters building, which incidentally, Justice Kolawole ordered to be unsealed in his judgment of yesterday.