Justice Idris Muhammed of a Federal High Court in Lagos has awarded N300 million to the widow of Friday Orjieh, an operator of a bureau de change business who was said to have been killed in 2009 by an Operation MESSA soldier.
Operation MESSA is an armed crime-fighting unit established by the Nigerian army to help rid Lagos State of crime.
Mr. Orjieh was reportedly shot to death by one Private Aminu Audu, a soldier with the unit, after a female customer alleged that an operator with the money-changing bureau had cheated her in a transaction.
Ruling on the matter, Justice Muhammed Kutigi granted the plaintiff, Adiza Orjieh's prayers to declare the act of the culprit soldier a gross violation of the victim's fundamental right to life and dignity of the human person. The judge consequently awarded N300 million to the plaintiff as general and exemplary damages for the breach of the victim's fundamental right to life.
The Lagos State Government and its attorney general, who were joined in the suit, had filed a motion to "arrest the judgment." In his ruling, Justice Idris Kutigi said that "justice could not be arrested." However, he struck out the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Lagos State Government, and the Attorney-General of Lagos State from the list of joined defendants.
The judgment was awarded against the Nigerian Army, which was alleged to have shielded the alleged killer-soldier, the Chief of Army Staff, Elizabeth Olubunmi, the customer who used the soldier to kill the victim, and Private Aminu Audu, the soldier who carried out the arbitrary killing.
On November 27, 2009, Ms. Olubunmi was said to have visited the office of Mr. Orjieh with Private Audu, a soldier with the Op-MESSA squad. She complained that she was short-changed in a transaction to change currency but could not identify the operator she allegedly had the transaction with. She was said to have insisted that Mr. Orjieh, who was in the bureau office, pay what she claimed as the shortfall in the cash she had received initially. Private Aminu was determined to forcibly execute the customer's wish.
When Mr. Orjieh explained that it was unreasonable for the woman to expect payment when she had failed to identify the operator who allegedly cheated her, the soldier became enraged, pulled a gun, and shot the victim. The gunshot shattered Mr. Orjieh's skull and he died instantly.
The plaintiff's lawyer, Dele Igbinedion, expressed his delight at today's judgment, describing it as a good precedence for the Nigerian judiciary.