ECOWAS Court dismisses suit against Nigeria over various killings in the country since 2001

The ECOWAS Court of Justice on 26th Monday 2021 dismissed a suit brought by a Nigerian Non-Governmental Organisation seeking to hold the Federal Republic of Nigeria liable through neglect or inaction for the various forms of violations suffered by communities and individuals in the country since 2001.

The NGO cited various instances of the unlawful killing of unarmed citizens under successive governments including the military invasions of Odi in Bayelsa state (1999), Zaki Biam in Benue State (2001) and Gbaramotu in Delta state (2009).

Delivering judgment in the suit which was filed by the Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP) on behalf of the communities and individuals, Hon. Justice Edward Amoako Asante held that although the court has jurisdiction over the matter as it borders on the violation of human rights, it dismissed the case because of the failure of the Applicant to clearly establish any community or group whose public interest was allegedly breached and needs vindication as claimed.

In suit no: ECW/CCJ/APP/15/16 the Applicant through the counsel Mr. Femi Falana alleged that available evidence showed that the military, the police, herdsmen and other unknown perpetrators have for many years unlawfully killed, raped, and maimed hundreds of innocent people and destroyed property in many parts of the country.

The NGO, which filed the suit on behalf of the victims, blamed government agents, private actors and other unknown perpetrators for the unlawful killings including the extrajudicial execution of criminal suspects by the police as well as the unabated unlawful killing of unarmed civilians including women and children.

The Applicant also cited the scores of people killed during political clashes in several parts of the country including, the invasion of Ogoniland in the country’s Rivers State during which killed three unarmed youth were allegedly killed without any investigation and the prosecution of the culprits among others.

The plaintiff also alleged that soldiers killed hundreds of worshipers at a religious convention of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria with the bodies of 347 of the victims buried in mass graves while the family of the leader of the group, who were not at the venue, were attacked in their home by the soldiers resulting in the killing of three of his children and the burning of some houses.

It added that scores of young people killed in the eastern part of the country by a combined team of the army and police for agitating for the state of Biafra while other killings took place in the country’s Benue, Taraba, Nassarawa and Enugu States.

The Applicant also accused Army officers, soldiers, policemen and herders of engaging in the unlawful killing of innocent people in the country’s north east while enjoying immunity from prosecution. SERAP particularly alleged that Police Commands across the country have deployed various pretexts to justify extrajudicial executions including the detention and extra judicial killing of hundreds armed robbery and kidnap suspects after being paraded during press conferences after which they are buried in unmarked graves at night. 

The Applicant contended that the continued attacks, killings, and destruction of property by military, police, herdsmen and other unknown perpetrators across the country amount to serious violations of human rights including the rights to life, to security and dignity of the human person as well as property.

The Applicant therefore is asking the Court for a declaration that the attacks, killings, raping and maiming of citizens   and other residents and destruction of property and other serious human rights violations and abuses across the country amount to the failure of the Respondent to exercise due diligence and therefore constitutes a serious breach of Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments to ensure and secure the rights to life, to dignity and security of the human person, and to property, guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.

It urged the Court to direct the Respondent to investigate all cases of
unlawful killings noted herein and pay adequate money compensation of N50 million to each of the dependents among others.

On the other hand, the Respondent denied the capacity and the mandate of the Applicant and demands a strict proof of the allegations.

In relation to the alleged violations committed against members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, the government said that the Movement was proscribed as a terrorist organisation by an order of the Federal High Court while its leader IMN Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky is currently facing trial at the Kaduna State High Court on an eight (8) count charge of culpable homicide.

Furthermore, the Respondent stated that the alleged victims of the religious convention (particularly Shiek El Zakzaky and his wife) instituted suits for the enforcement of their fundamental rights before the Federal High Courts sitting at Abuja and Kaduna while the government’s appeal of the decision of the Federal High Court in a suit filed by its leader against the State Security Services and others was pending before the Federal High Court.

It also denied violating the right of persons agitating for the State of Biafra in the eastern part of Nigeria whose sponsor, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was proscribed by Federal High Court in 2017 as a terrorist group, and therefore cannot enforce their rights while its leader who was facing trial has jumped bail.

The Respondent dismissed as ‘wild allegations,’ claims that armed herdsmen were responsible for violations in Benue and Taraba States as the Applicant was unable to prove the existence and death of five hundred (500) people.

In respect of the alleged violation of human rights in the Odi Community, the Respondent denied same and stated that the community instituted a suit before the Federal High Court, Port-Harcourt and were awarded a sum of N37.6 billion and that all affected persons have been duly compensated while the government entered into a consent judgment with the parties in a suit filed over the violations in the Zaki Biam Community.

In response to the claim of alleged violations of human rights of the people of the Gbaramotu Kingdom in the country’s Niger Delta, the Respondent said that the affected persons initiated several suits at the Federal High Court for the enforcement of their fundamental rights and were paid 192 million by the government upon the judgment of the court.

The Respondent contended that the Applicant instituted this suit to embarrass the Federal Government as most of the issues raised in the suit have either been settled or are at the Appeal courts for further interpretation and final resolution.

The Respondent pleaded res judicata in the present suit since the Applicant cannot institute an action on behalf of people that have sought solace at the Federal High Court of Nigeria by themselves on the same facts and issues.

The Respondent therefore prayed the Court to dismiss this suit for lack of merit.

Also on the panel were Honorable Justices Gberibe Ouattara and Januaria Costa