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ECOWAS court fines Nigeria $3.3 million over Apo extra-judicial killings




The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court has slammed a $3.3 million fine on Nigeria for the extra-judicial killing of eight citizens in the Apo District of Abuja, Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

In the judgment delivered by presiding Justice Friday Nwoke, the regional court found Nigeria liable of brutal killing of defenceless citizens contrary to the provision of the local and international law on the fundamental rights of citizens to life.

The court subsequently ordered Nigeria to pay a compensatory damage of $200,000 to each of the families of its Nigerian citizens killed and $150,000 to each of the injured by a combined team of soldiers and operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) during a raid of an uncompleted building at the Apo area of Abuja.

The eight Nigerians killed when the security personnel opened fire on them were later found to be commercial motorcycle (okada) riders who were taking refuge in the uncompleted building as a result of skyrocketing cost of house rent in the capital city.

It would be recalled that a non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Incorporated Trustees of Fiscal and Civil Rights Enlightenment Foundation, had on behalf of the deceased dragged Nigeria, the Army and DSS before the regional court to challenge the legality of the killing of the eight commercial motorcyclists and the injury of others who were harmless when the security men invaded their apartment.

However, before the ECOWAS court verdict, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had ruled in favour of the victims and awarded damages against the perpetrators but the decision of the commission has yet to be ratified by a High Court as stipulated by law.

The commission also faulted the action of the men of the DSS as it declared the killing of eight tricycle riders at the Apo Legislative Quarters in Abuja on September 20, 2013 as unlawful.

In an 83-page report presented on the matter in Abuja by the then Chairman of the NHRC’s Governing Council, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, the commission also held that the sum of N135 million be paid as compensation to the relatives of the victims.

The council therefore awarded N10 million to each of the families of the eight tricycle operators during the attack and N5 million to each of the 11 others that sustained injuries.

But in its verdict, the regional panel of three justices headed by Justice Nwoke condemned the killing as barbaric, illegal and unconstitutional and a breach of the fundamental rights of the deceased to life.

The court rejected the plea by Nigeria that its security personnel killed the deceased in attempt to defend themselves, adding that there was no iota of evidence that any of the deceased carried cutlass or guns against the security men when they invaded their house.

Justice Nwoke further said that the burden of proof that the security personnel acted in self-defence lays on the head of the defendants and in the instance case, since the burden has not been proved in anyway, we have no difficulty in arriving at a conclusion that the claim is baseless and hereby rejected.

“Reasonableness suggests that an officer of any sort must act without passion or prejudices in a non-conflict zone. Consideration should have been made with regards to persons who might have occupied the house in error and who are not among the suspected terrorists being looked for by the security personnel”, the court held.

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