The NHRC verdict over Apo killings
ontrary to the long standing negative public perception of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies including anti-graft outfits, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) earned for itself the confidence of Nigerians through its recent verdict over the wrongful killing, last year, of eight migrant workers in Abuja.
In the 83-page final report on the killings following six months of investigations and public testimonies, Chairman of the Governing Board of the NHRC Professor Chidi Odinkalu stated that there was “no credible evidence” to prove that the victims who belonged to the National Association of Commercial Tricycle and Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association (NATOMORAS) were members of the Boko Haram sect. the report also added that the claim by the SSS on self defense did not have “any fact or evidence” to kill the victims. Instead, the victims according to the report were non-combatant civilians. The report thus observed that the application of lethal force was disproportionate and the killing of the eight deceased persons as well as injuries caused to the eleven other survivors were unlawful; adding that there is “no basis in law for confining detainees freed by the Respondents to internal banishment”.
The NHRC in the popular verdict indicted the Nigerian Army (NA) and the State Security Service (SSS) for their role in the unlawful killing of eight and the wounding of twelve others who were taking shelter in an uncompleted building in the Apo area of Abuja city. Most of those arrested during the operation have been released while others have been banished from Abuja for two years and warned not to talk to the press; a decision widely condemned.
A combined team of the army and the SSS in the early hours of September 20, 2013 stormed an uncompleted building where several migrant workers (many of them Keke-NAPEP operators and wheel barrow pushers) were squatting. The security operatives claimed they had an intelligence report that occupants of the uncompleted building were Boko Haram insurgents who were using the place as a hide-out. The security forces in the course of defending their action also argued that they came under fire and thus responded in self-defense. Preliminary investigations revealed that the building belonged to an army officer who wanted the illegal squatters out of the place; and thus, chose to label them as Boko Haram members. The mere fact that other suspected Boko Haram hide-outs were demolished and the landlord of the uncompleted property was neither prosecuted nor his edifice pulled down gives room to suspect a conspiracy between the army and the SSS.
It became glaring after investigations that the unfortunate incident was a pure case of profiling designed to serve the interest of the owner of the uncompleted property. We call on security agencies to desist from profiling poor and unemployed Muslims as Boko Haram members in order to justify their killing. The SSS, for instance, is not by its statutory duties known to be a combat or killer squad. Rather, it is professionally an intelligence outfit; and should work towards perfecting that function.
The NHRC in its verdict awards the sum of ten million naira as compensation for each of the deceased to be paid by the Government of the Federation. The AGF is to ensure that evidence of payment is lodged with the Registry of the NHRC within thirty days of this decision. The second and third Respondents are restrained from the use of administrative banishment against any of the survivors.
One crucial aspect of the NHRC report is that part of the report which requires the Respondents to undertake a review and harmonization of the Rules of Engagement governing the operations of security agencies to bring them into compliance with the applicable rules of international humanitarian law governing non-international armed conflicts. In order to show respect for the rule of law, the Respondents are encouraged, as requested by the NHRC, to file a certified text of the harmonized and updated Rules of Engagement with the NHRC within the time frame of two months given by the NHRC.
While section 22(1) of the NHRC Act (as amended) requires it to register the report and decision for enforcement with the Federal High Court in the Federal Capital Territory, we call on all indicted parties to respect the judgment.
commends the NHRC for carrying out a detailed investigation in to the matter and giving a fair judgment. This singular verdict is a testimony that in spite of the deep-seated corruption in the Nigerian system, individuals as heads of organizations like the current Chief Executive of the NHRC can make a lot of difference if given the opportunity.