The Federal Government has paid N6.5 million (over $30,000 US) in compensation to victims of shooting by armed security forces in Bundu Ama, Port Harcourt on 12 October 2009.
The payment followed the ECOWAS Court of Justice judgment obtained by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 10 residents of Bundu waterfront and surrounding communities in June 2014.
In the suit, the plaintiffs claimed that armed security forces had on 12 October 2009 “opened fire on unarmed protesters in Bundu Ama, an informal settlement in Port Harcourt, leaving at least one person dead and 12 seriously injured. Also, the Rivers State government with the support or complicity of the Federal government planned large-scale demolitions of the city’s waterfront settlements, home to at least 200,000 people.”
The court ruled that there was no justification for the shootings and that the Nigerian government had breached its obligation to protect and respect the right to peaceful association and assembly. The court awarded a total of 11 million Nigerian Naira – nearly $70,000 USD – in damages.
In a statement by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organisation said that, “We welcome the payment of compensation by the government. This shows that there is penalty for the government when it allows its security forces to use excessive force against peaceful protesters, and unlawfully drive them away from their homes, with tragic consequences for citizens and communities. That was the case here.”
“The victims now at last have the justice they have sought for many years. For them the significance of this moment cannot be over emphasised.”
“This is a timely reminder of Nigeria’s obligations to ensure rights to peaceful assembly and association, and freedom from forced evictions, and to put a stop to current practice.”
“However, with several aspects of the judgment and the case yet to be enforced and resolved, and full and fair compensation paid as ordered by the ECOWAS Court, the matter is far from over,” the organisation said.
According to the organisation, “Reparations are only meaningful insofar as the judgment has not been fully implemented and the government has not aligned its policing practices with international human rights standards. That’s what needs to happen.”
“SERAP is calling on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to fully and effectively implement the judgment in a comprehensive and timely manner, as well as to ensure guarantees of non-repetition,” the organisation said.
It would be recalled that Israel Okari; Joy Williams; Austin Onwe; Tamno Tonye Ama; Victor Opium; Mark Bomowe; Napoleon Tokubiye; Napoleon Tokubiye; Jonathan Bokoko; Williams Tamuno; and Linus John with the support of SERAP dragged the government to the court in 2010.
The Suit Number ECW/CCJ/APP/10/10 dated 29 October 2010, was filed on behalf of SERAP and the residents by Femi Falana, SAN, Adetokunbo Mumuni and Sola Egbeyinka. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation; Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi; Commissioner for Justice Rivers State; and the Commissioner for Urban Development, were joined as Defendants.
Amnesty International, London supported the suit through amicus brief filed on behalf of the organisation by Dr Kolawole Olaniyan.
According to the Plaintiffs, “The planned large-scale demotions were developed without adequate consultation with affected communities. Njemanze waterfront, a community close to Bundu Ama, was demolished in August 2009 and it is estimated between 13,800 and 19,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes. Thousands of people, including children, women and the elderly were left homeless and vulnerable to other human rights violations.”
The ECOWAS Court of Justice, Abuja ruled that “the failure by the Nigerian government to investigate and prosecute members of the security forces who killed and injured protesters violated the right to protest.”
Article 15(4) of the ECOWAS Treaty makes the Judgment of the Court binding on Member States, including Nigeria. Also, Article 19(2) of the 1991 Protocol provides that the decisions of the Court shall be final and immediately enforceable. Furthermore, non-compliance with the judgment of the Court can be sanctioned under Article 24 of the Supplementary Protocol of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, and Article 77 of the ECOWAS Treaty.