In a ruling on Tuesday, the regional court ordered Nigeria to pay a compensatory damage of $200,000 to each of the family of the deceased citizens and $150,000 to each of those wounded.
The incident occurred after a combined team of soldiers and operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) carried out a raid on an uncompleted building at Apo.
The victims, whom the DSS had claimed were insurgents, were later found to be commercial motorcycle operators who were taking refuge in the building.
The case was filed a Nigerian Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) against the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Nigerian Army and the Department of State Security Services.
In suit no ECW/CCJ/APP/02/14 filed on their behalf by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the Applicants had asked the Court for a declaration that they were entitled to the right to life and that the shooting resulting in death and injury constituted a flagrant abuse of their fundamental human rights to life and dignity of the person as enshrined under international law.
The applicants represented by Mr Aliyu Umar, who led seven other lawyers, asked for $100 million dollars in compensation for the families of each of the deceased and $10 million dollars each for the surviving victims as compensation for their mutilation.
But in the government’s preliminary objection, Dr Fabian Ajogwu, leading five other lawyers, argued among others that SERAP lacked legal personality and has no locus standi to bring the application, not being a victim or relative of the victim of any human rights violation and has not shown evidence of authority to represent the victims.
He also contended that the Nigerian government had a duty under the country’s constitution to protect the lives and property of citizens; that the law enforcement agents acted within the law in a situation of justifiable necessity while the Applicants’ request for monetary compensation cannot be granted in view of the circumstances of the case.
Counsel to the Nigerian Army, Muhammed Sanni, also raised similar objection while adding that as an organ of the State, which is the proper party to be sued for human rights violations, the name of the Army should be struck out from the suit.
In addition to canvassing similar positions, the Department of State Security Services, which was represented by Mr Solomon Akunna, described the suit as an abuse of Court process as a similar complaint had been filed before the country’s National Human Rights Commission which necessitated a public enquiry after which 10 million Naira was awarded to each of the families of the deceased and five million Naira for each to the injured.
In the judgement read by Honorable Justice Friday Chijioke Nwoke, the Court agreed with the Nigerian Army and Department of Security Services that they should not have been joined as parties citing its previous decisions that suits for the violation of human rights could only be filed against States.
On the issue of locus standi, the Court held that it would presume that the regularity of the certificate of incorporation tendered by SERAP, whose authenticity was not disputed by the Defendants, was evidence of its legal personality.
While acknowledging the validity of the argument that only direct victims could approach the Court for remedy for human rights violations, it said that there were exceptions to the rule.
“These include but not limited to cases of collective interest (usually referred as public interest litigations) and the non-victims receiving authority to act on behalf of the victims or their close relations,” the Court said.
Justice Nwoke said that there was a consensus about the events of that day from both parties mainly that armed agents of the government invaded an uncompleted building occupied by the Applicants, killed some of them and wounded others.
The only issue for determination, the Judges held, is whether the injury caused by the agents of the government constituted a violation of their human rights especially the right to life and whether the death of the deceased was justified by law.
In this regard, the Court held that the State had a responsibility to protect everyone’s right to life which was not diminished in the context of counter-terrorism and obliged under international instruments to investigate deaths ‘irrespective of how the authorities found about the death whether State authorities were involved or the circumstances’.
Relying on the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Nigerian Constitution and declarations of the UN Human Rights Committee regarding the circumstances under which persons could be deprived of life, the Court concluded that the ‘legality of killing outside the context of armed conflict as in this case, was governed by human rights standards especially the ones concerning the use of force.
“They apply to all government officials who exercise police powers including military and Security forces operating in contexts where violence exist but falls short of the threshold of armed conflict,” the Court said, stressing that the plea of self-defence and necessity claimed by the Defendants must be circumscribed within the limits of force required by human rights law.
Also on the panel were the President of the Court, Honorable Justice Maria Do Ceu Silva Monteiro and Honorable Justice Micah Wilkins Wright.