The security agencies need to improve on their intelligence gathering capacity in order to avoid another needless bloodbath

After three years, the eight Nigerian citizens killed by a combined team of soldiers and operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) in an uncompleted building in Apo District of Abuja, got justice last week. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court ordered the country to pay compensation of $200,000 to each of the families of the deceased and $150,000 to each of the injured. It is a fitting end to a tragic drama.

While it is commendable that our courts are standing up to challenge human rights abuses, especially by agents of the state, there is a dangerous pattern which, according to Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) should worry the authorities. For instance, in respect of the military invasion of Odi, Zaki Biam and Gbaramatu, the federal high court in three separate judgments, awarded over N160 billion as reparations. Against the backgrmound that over N25 billion damages have in recent years been awarded against the police for killings and other human rights violations, it stands to reason that something is fundamentally wrong.

In the case of the “Apo Eight”, they were killed when the security operatives raided their “. M mabode” on September 20, 2013, alleging they were members of the Boko Haram sect that had ravaged the North East of the country and bombed Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. But it turned out that the victims were commercial tricycle riders who took refuge in the uncompleted building because they could not afford the high rent in the city.

“There is no evidence of any attempt that the deceased and the survivors attempted to harm the security personnel. There is no evidence of recovered guns. There is no evidence of bullet or pellets recovered from the deceased and tendered before this court to prove the claim that the Nigerian security personnel acted in self defence when they stormed the house of the deceased,” said Justice Friday Nwoke, who added: “Rather the evidence abounds that the victims were unarmed while the security personnel were the ones who opened fire on the innocent and the defenceless citizens.”

The court’s decision in the case brought on behalf of the victims by a non-governmental organisation, The Incorporated Trustees of Fiscal and Civil Right Enlightenment Foundation, corroborated an earlier finding of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission, which on April 7, 2014 indicted the security forces. The commission in its report presented by its then Chairman, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, said that the security services had no credible evidence to tag the victims as agents of the Boko Haram terror group and awarded N10 million to be paid within one month to each of the families of the eight deceased persons, and N5 million each to the eleven persons injured in the attack.

The findings of the regional court and the commission bear eloquent testimony to the innocence of the citizens who had their lives cut short by the obvious indiscretion and error of judgment of security officers of the state, who ironically had the responsibility to protect the citizens they killed. To that extent, their families could find relief in the fact that the innocence of their loved ones has been proven and their names cleared.

In the past, this newspaper had advised the security agencies to exercise caution, absolute discretion and moderation in their dealings with citizens irrespective of the circumstances of their operations. Going forward, however, the security agencies would need to improve on their intelligence gathering capacity in order to forestall a recurrence of this type of incident.

Finally, we urge the federal government to bring to a closure to this case by paying the fines imposed by the regional court and the commission. At least that would bring emotional relief and some closure to the families of the victims.