A Federal High Court in Abuja has stopped the execution of the ruling of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which found security agencies guilty for the killings of eight squatters at an uncompleted building in Apo District of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
The security agencies had claimed that the squatters were members of the Boko Haram sect, but the commission held that the killing was not justified in the circumstances.
The court has also given the Department of the State Security Services (DSS) the leave to commence proceeding for judicial review to quash the report of the commission.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole while granting the leave, ordered a stay of execution of the 83-page report which indicted the Nigerian Army and the DSS for the murder of the squatters on September 20, 2013.
In the report, the commission said the security agencies had “no credible evidence” to tag the eight youngsters killed last September as agents of Boko Haram terror group.
But not satisfied, the DSS through its counsel, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN), asked the court for an order of certiorari to quash the report of the NHRC released on April 7, 2014 on the grounds that the chairman of the commission, Professor Chidi Anslem Odinkalu, who was also the Chairman of the Public Inquiry had deep seated bias and animosity against the DSS as a result of his unsuccessful bid to get a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to declare its acts in seizing the passports of his wards sometimes in 2002 as unlawful, illegal, unconstitutional and award damages against the applicant.
The DSS also claimed that the commission was biased against it throughout the proceedings of the public inquiry in that it was not given any fair hearing during the preliminary investigation.
The applicant further anchored its application on the ground that the commission, not being a regular court lacked the jurisdiction to determine the nature of the incident which bordered on criminal offences under sections 317, 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code and section 220 of the Panel Code.
In addition, the applicant is challenging the report on the ground that it was not given fair hearing during the proceedings since opportunity was not accorded to it to confront her accusers throughout or in the course of the public inquiry conducted by the commission in respect of the incident.
DSS claimed that it was never invited or interrogated during the preliminary investigations conducted by the NHRC in respect of the incident and that it was not given a copy of the petitions lodged by the Global Rights; Human Rights Law Office and the National Association of Commercial Tricycle and Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association (NATOMORAS).
Justice Kolawole had after listening to the motion ex-parte moved by counsel to the applicant, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN), granted leave to the DSS to apply for an order of certiorari to remove for the purpose of being quashed, the decisions and awards of the 1st-4th respondents in complaint No. C/2013/7908/HQ: Global Rights & 3 others contained in a ruling/ report delivered on April 7, 2014.
The court further held that the leave should operate as a stay of execution of the orders and awards contained in the aforesaid ruling /report of the 1st -4th respondents delivered on April 7, 2014 pending the hearing and determination of the substantive motion on notice.
Also granted by the court was an order for substituted service of the substantive motion on notice on all the respondents by dropping same in their various offices.
Justice Kolawole however directed the DSS to within five days file and serve a motion on notice pursuant to the leave granted herein on the respondents and adjourned the matter till July 9, 2014.
In its report, the NHRC raised the following questions; whether security forces applied proportionate force to the alleged threat and whether those killed were lawfully denied their lives.
The commission dismissed the claim by the security agencies that the victims were Boko Haram combatants.
There is “no credible evidence” to reach such a conclusion and for that reason, the victims remain in the face of the law, “protected civilians” under the Geneva Convention act that governs the rule of law.
Besides, the NHRC accused the security forces of being trigger-happy, adding that their testimonies of “self-defence were inconsistent and could not be accepted.
While describing the killings as unlawful violations of right to life of the deceased, the commission said the security agents did not only violate the right to life of the victims, but that the survivors suffered non-lethal violations of right to life, physical integrity and livelihood.
Accordingly the security agencies were asked to pay N10million naira to each of the deceased family and N5million naira to the eleven injured youths.
On the SSS’ directive banishing some of the squatters from Abuja, the NHRC said the security forces had no legal backing to exclude or internally banish citizens.
The commission went ahead to give a two months ultimatum to the three agencies to review and harmonise rules of engagement governing the operations of security agencies and bring them into compliance with international standards governing armed conflict.