FG ordered to pay N37.6bn for invasion of Odi
Twelve years after federal soldiers sacked Odi community in Bayelsa State, destroying lives and property, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt yesterday ordered the Federal Government to pay N37.6 billion as compensation to the victims of the invasion.
Delivering judgment in a class suit filed by Prof. Kobina Keme-EbiImananagha, Chief Ndu Gwagha, Chief Shadrack Agadah, Mr. Idoni Ingezi and Mr. Nwaka Echomgbe, presiding judge, Justice LamboAkanbiordered that the payment be made within the next 21 days.
Describing the action of the military as genocidal, brutish, reckless and a gross violation of the rights of the victims to life and to property, Justice Akanbi said the judgment was predicated on 'the need to curb the excesses of the Executive and to send a clear message that the days of tyranny are gone and gone forever.'
The plaintiffs had through their counsel, led by Lucius Nwosu (SAN); Lawal Rabana (SAN) and Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), urged the court to declare that the invasion of Odi and its attendant assault, battery, maiming, shelling, shooting and cold-blooded murder of Odi indigenes and the destruction of their property by Nigerian armed forces under the command of the president, was tantamount to a gross violation of the people's fundamental human rights to life, dignity and personal liberty.
The respondents were the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; Minister of Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff and Attorney-General of the Federation.
The plaintiffs also argued that the deployment of troops by the President and on the order of the Chief of Defence Staff, which led to the wanton destruction of lives and property of the people of Odi, was a gross misuse of power vested in the state.
But as the judge was about to deliver judgment on the matter yesterday, counsel to the Minister of Defence and a director in the Ministry of Defence, MalamJimohAdamu, told the court that he had filed a fresh application seeking an extension of time on the basis that his principal was not served any of the court processes. This was however dismissed by the judge after going through court records, which indicated that the Attorney-General of the Federation was duly served.
Justice Akanbi said that the claim of counsel to the President that troops were deployed in Odi on November 20, 1999 to flush out secessionist militants who had killed seven policemen and unleashed mayhem in the community was false .
He noted that this contravened President Goodluck Jonathan's recent assertion on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) that no militant was killed in Odi during the military incursion, instead those brutally murdered were innocent victims.
He said Jonathan's statement on the Odi matter was an acknowledgement of the enthronement of the rule of law as opposed to the enthronement of guns. He said the President's statement was an assurance to the international community that Nigeria was now governed by those who respect the law.
The judge expressed dismay that the wanton killing of innocent persons in Odi by the military had battered the image of Nigeria and portrayed it as an enclave inhabited by primitive people. He said the action of the military was not only unconstitutional but also reckless and an outrageous behaviour.
He observed that even if taken for granted, it was the responsibility of the government to protect lives and property, it could not offer justifiable excuse for its reckless engagement in the wanton massacre of innocent persons in Odi.
Describing the destruction of Odi as comprehensive and total as nothing was spared by the marauding soldiers, Akanbisaid the Federal Government brazenly violated the fundamental human rights of the victims to movement, life and property and to live peacefully in their ancestral home.
He ordered that special damages of N17,618,871 and general damages of N20 billion be paid to the community as compensation. He also issued a perpetual injunction restraining the respondents and their agents from invading Odi and bombing the place.