The Federal High Court, sitting in Port Harcourt, has ordered the Federal Government to pay N37.6 billion as compensation to the people of Odi in Bayelsa State for the invasion of their community by soldiers in 1999.
The judgment is coming 12 years after the military invaded Odi and allegedly engaged in wanton destruction of lives and property, an action that drew worldwide condemnation.
Justice Lambo Akambi while delivering the judgment yesterday in a suit filed by Professor Kobina Keme-Ebi Imananagha, Chief Ndu Gwagha, Chief Shadrack Agadah, Mr. Idoni Ingezi and Mr. Nwaka Echomgbe, on behalf of the community, directed that the payment be made within the next 21 days.
Akambi, in the judgment, described the action of the military as genocidal, brutish, reckless and a gross violation of the rights of the victims to life and to own property.
In the suit filed by their counsel, Lucius Nwosu (SAN), Lawal Rabana (SAN) and Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), the community urged the court to declare that the invasion of Odi and the attendant assault, battery, maiming, shelling, shootings and cold-blooded murder of its people as well as the destruction of their property by the military, acting under presidential directive, was tantamount to a gross violation of the people's fundamental human rights to life, dignity and personal liberty.
As the judge was about to deliver the judgment Tuesday, counsel to the Minister of Defence and a director in the Ministry of Defence, Mallam Jimoh Adamu, told the court that he had filed a fresh application seeking for an extension of time on the grounds that his principal was not served any of the court processes.
Justice Akambi dismissed his plea after going through court records, which indicated that the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) was duly served.
He said the claim of the 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 on the community was false.
He added that the counsel's claim contravened that of President Goodluck Jonathan's recent assertion on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) that no militant was killed in Odi during the military incursion and that 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.
According to him, the president's statement is an assurance to the international community that those who respect the law are now governing Nigeria.
Justice Akambi, who described the destruction of Odi as comprehensive and total as nothing was spared by the soldiers, said the Federal Government brazenly violated the fundamental human rights of the victims to movement, life and to own property and live peacefully in their ancestral home.
He ordered that special damages of N17,618,871 and general damages of N20 billion respectively 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 community.
In his reaction, lead counsel to the plaintiffs, Nwosu, lauded the judge for his courage and said the judgment would check executive recklessness in the country.
Similarly, counsel to the president and to the Chief of Defence Staff, Akolika Awa, said the judge was fair even though her client lost the case.