Falana Writes Buhari On The Need To Investigate Allegations Of Unlawful Killing Of Unarmed Citizens By Security Forces

Femi Falana, SAN

Femi Falana,SAN

In spite of the avowed commitment of Your Excellency’s Administration to end the entrenched culture of impunity in the country there have been reported cases of the gross abuse of human rights of the Nigerian people. In particular, the extra-judicial execution of criminal suspects by the police and the unlawful killing of unarmed civilians including women and children by the armed forces have continued unabated. To appreciate the gravity of the human rights abuse by security forces kindly permit us to refer to the following cases.
1.Notwithstanding that the 2015 general election was successfully conducted it is on record that scores of people were killed in political clashes in several parts of the country. According to the National Human Rights Commission over 100 people were killed in Rivers state alone. The recent rerun legislative elections in the state also witnessed wanton killings and destruction of properties. Apart from thugs and militants who have continued to unleash mayhem on innocent people the Joint Task Force has been indicted in the unlawful killing of members of the public. On February 22, 2016, a platoon of soldiers invaded Ogoniland in Rivers state and killed 3 unarmed youths. The demand of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People that the culprits be prosecuted has been ignored by the authorities.
2.While the federal government deserves commendation for the success recorded so far in prosecuting the war on terror the failure to sanction the army officers and soldiers who engage in the unlawful killing of innocent people in the north east region has been condemned by local and international human rights organizations. Having confirmed that the federal government and the military authorities are unwilling to investigate the complaints of such unlawful killings the office of the Special Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has commenced investigations into the allegations of crimes against humanity committed by the indicted military personnel.
3.From time to time, the heads of the Police Commands in the 36 states of the federation and the federal capital territory convene press conferences where hundreds of detained armed robbery and kidnap suspects are paraded before the media. Upon the conclusion of such media briefing majority of the suspects are extra-judicially executed by the anti-robbery squads of the Police. Thereafter, the dead bodies of the suspects are taken out at night and secretly buried in unmarked graves by the illegal executioners. In recent time, we have received complaints from the family members of a number of criminal suspects who have been unlawfully killed by the Police under the pretext that they were trying to escape from custody!
4.On December 12, 2015 the Army authorities claimed that the religious convention held in Zaria, Kaduna by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (hereinafter referred to as “the Movement”) constituted a nuisance on the highway and that some personalities including the Chief of Army were prevented from moving freely. Instead of requesting the Police to remove the nuisance from the highway the army chief decided to resort to self help. In utter violation of section 217 of the Constitution, Rules of Engagement for the Nigerian Military and the Geneva Convention he ordered armed troops from the 1st Division of the Nigerian Army to levy war on the worshipers. In the process, hundreds of people were reportedly killed in cold blood. Two days later, the leader of the Movement, Sheik Ibraheem Zakzaky who was not at the venue of the convention was attacked vi et armis in his private house by the soldiers. He and members of his family including his wife and children were shot at close range. 3 of his children were killed in his presence while his house was set ablaze by the rampaging soldiers. Without a court order the Kaduna state government teamed up with the vandals by demolishing the house of Sheik Zakzaky and other properties of the Movement.
The Kaduna state government equally assisted the army in the secret burial of 347 dead bodies of the slain members of the Movement in a mass grave in the state. While those who massacred the 347 Nigerian citizens are walking free not less than 182 members of the Movement have been charged to court with conspiracy and culpable homicide by the Kaduna state government for allegedly killing a soldier. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Movement are being held in prison custody and the detention centre of the State Security Service. Thus, they have been prevented from testifying before the Judicial Commission of Enquiry set up by the Kaduna state government to investigate the civil disturbances. Consequently, the Commission is currently taking evidence from the aggressors and others who have an axe to grind with the Movement. As the military authorities are unable to justify the massacre they have denied that they killed and buried the 347 Shiites.
5.It has been reported that scores of young people who were killed in the eastern part of the country by the combined team of the army and police for agitating for the state of Biafra. However, a fortnight ago, the State Security Service announced that it had found 55 shallow graves in Umuahia, Abia State. Curiously, the SSS claimed that some of the graves contained the bodies of 5 Fulani herdsmen who were resident in the state. Although the security agency pointedly accused the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra of “gradually showing its true colour” by attempting to ignite terrorism and mistrust it turned round to assure the public that it would investigate the incident and “ensure that the sponsors and perpetrators of this action are apprehended and persecuted for their crime”. It is clear from its own press statement that the SSS reached the hasty conclusion of holding the agitators for the Republic of Biafra responsible for the killings when it had not carried out any investigation into the shallow graves.
6.In several parts of the country, violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers have resulted in mass killings in the last few months. For instance, in Benue and Taraba states not less than 500 farmers were recently killed by armed herdsmen due to negligence on the part of security forces. Apart from the visit of the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase to the scene of the killings the culprits have not been brought to book. In Dorcas Afolalu v Federal Republic of Nigeria (unreported Suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/O4/2012 the Ecowas Court held that the Government is under a legal obligation to protect the life of every citizen.
7.Unsurprisingly, some nihilist groups have taken advantage of the growing culture of official impunity to engage in savage killings, abductions and other primitive brutalization of unarmed people. Some of the victims of kidnapping are brutishly killed while the hapless families of others pay huge ransom to secure their release. In 2013 a group of bandits abducted and killed over 150 policemen and SSS operatives in Nasarawa State. Shortly thereafter another criminal gang killed and dumped 24 bodies at the Amansea River in Anambra State.
It is pertinent to state that the unlawful killing of unarmed citizens did not start under the current administration. It may interest Your Excellency to know that on account of the military invasions of Odi in Bayelsa state (1999), Zaki Biam in Benue State (2001) and Gbaramotu in Delta state (2009) the federal high court, condemned the illegal involvement of armed soldiers in the maintenance of internal security. In the three separate judgments, the court awarded a total sum of N166 billion as reparation to the victims of the illegal military attacks. In the same vein, the federal high court has awarded about N25 billion against the Nigeria Police Force for unlawful killing of unarmed citizens and other human rights abuse in several parts of the country. But having undertaken to end impunity and the egregious violations of human rights your administration owes it a duty to ensure that the life of every person living in Nigeria is respected at all times. We are therefore compelled to request Your Excellency to institute an inquiry into the reckless killing of people by security forces with a view to prosecuting the culprits.
However, if the perpetrators of the brutal killings are not prosecuted the federal government is likely to continue to pay damages of billions of Naira awarded by the courts while many highly placed officials of the government may be tried before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity arising from gross human rights violations.
Finally, Mr. President, kindly accept the assurances of our highest esteem and regards,
Femi Falana, SAN.