The Community Court of the Economic Community of West African State ( ECOWAS ) has found the Nigerian government guilty of failing in its duty to protect the human rights of members of Agatu Community in Benue State, who were attacked and killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
The court, in a judgment in a suit marked, ECW/CCJ/APP/11/16, ordered the Nigerian government to investigate the 2016 mass killings and destruction of properties in the Agatu Community in Benue State, identify and prosecute the perpetrators and redress the victims.
In the judgment delivered on January 26 this year, a three-member panel of the court found the government of Nigeria in ‘violation of their obligation to protect the human rights of the Agatu Community and prevent its violation.’
In the lead judgment by Justice Dupe Atoki, the court also ordered the government to provide adequate security by deploying more security personnel to the ‘area to protect the Community and prevent further occurrences of that mayhem.’
Relying on Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right, to which the country is signatory, the court held that in view of the fact that the mass killings and destruction were admitted by both parties and uncontroverted therefore need no proof, the Respondent is under obligation to recognize the rights enshrined in the charter and adopt legislative or other measures to give effect to them.
It said the respondent is obliged to protect the human rights of its citizens, in the instant case, the Agatu communities as guaranteed under the African Charter and prevent their violations even by private actors.
The court had earlier rejected the argument of the defendants contesting the locus of the plaintiffs by holding that the law recognizes the right of individuals and corporate bodies who are not victims to bring an action in a representative capacity under the principle of actio popularis.
The court also rejected the contention of the defendants that they cannot be held responsible for any ethnic crime committed by unidentified and unknown persons, which constitute a breach as these perpetrators are not connected or known to the Defendants or any of its agencies.
The court ruled that it could not award the monetary compensation of five hundred billion naira demanded by the plaintiffs as it has no record of the details of the victims, their names, gender, age, address while the properties destroyed have also not been specifically identified nor their value indicated.
The Solicitor General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, who represented the defendants had blamed the crisis that engulfed the State and its environment on ethnic differences between the Agatu community and the Fulani community over farming and rearing of animals as has been established by various panels of enquiry set up at different times in a bid to proffer solution.
He argued that the crisis between the two rival communities are not based on security lapses or the inability of the Federal or State Governments to protect the lives and properties of the people of state as security agencies were deployed to the Agatu community for the purpose of ensuring the protection of lives and properties in the interest of peace and security.
The suit was filed by Reverend Father Solomon MFA and the 11 others namely: Reverend Joseph Dooga, Dr. Sam Abah, Dr.David Iordaah, Hon. Ochepo Yakubu, Hon. Terse Tange, Favour Adah Paul, Samuel Msonter Ijoho, Iorbee Bajah, Ashi Bajah, Terseer Iorbee Bajah and Movement Against Fulani Occupation(MAFO) .
Listed as defendants are the President of Nigeria, the Inspector General of Police, the Chief of Army Staff and the Minister of Internal Affairs, who plaintiffs accused of violating their fundamental human rights.
The applicants claimed that within the last three years, Fulani Herdsmen have carried out over 50 (fifty) major attacks on Benue communities the most prominent of them taking place in 15 out of 23 Local Government Areas of the State namely, Agatu, Gwer East, Gwer West, Makurdi, Guma, Tarka, Buruku, Katsina Ala, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Oju, Obi and Konshisha.
They also alleged that affected communities have been completely overwhelmed and are now desolate and devastated as they have suffered wanton destruction of their properties and lives including: burning down and general destruction of houses and homes, sundry household items, farms, crops, economic trees, vehicles, machineries, food stuffs, schools etc.
The plaintiffs claimed that over 1000 people have been killed, according to documents filed before the Court with hundreds of thousands displaced while others are living in deplorable make shift camps and properties worth billions of naira destroyed in their communities by these ravaging Fulani Herdsmen this year alone.
They claimed that the action of the defendants’ by not constituting an investigation panel nor taking measures to forestall a reoccurrence, amounted to negligence, was oppressive, arbitrary, capricious, and for Injuring the dignity and pride of the Applicants and for causing them great physical and psychological trauma.