The Federal High Court, Lagos Division, has awarded N85.5 million as damages against the Nigerian Army for the assault and killing of one Olajide Enilari, a flour merchant.
The judgement came eight years after the deceased, Mr. Enilari, died from a brutal assault by soldiers in 2009 and the case was brought before the court by a human rights campaign organization, Access to Justice.
According to details of a court judgement seen by PREMIUM TIMES, dated September 26, the judge, I. N. Buba, ruled that the assault which led to the death of Mr. Enilari was wrong and unlawful.
The suit was filed on April 28, 2009, on behalf of the family of late Mr. Enilari, the plaintiffs. The suit was instituted against the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff, the Attorney General of the Federation and 3 others.
Mr. Enilari was brutally assaulted by officers of the Nigerian Army on January 27, 2009 along Airways junction in Apapa, Lagos. Due to head injuries sustained during the assault, Mr. Olajide died on January 29, 2009, in Lagos.
Witness accounts said that Mr. Enilari was standing by his truck driver at the Airways junction in Apapa, when a vehicle suddenly hit him. The deceased ran to stop the driver of the vehicle from fleeing, but the occupants of the vehicle - who were military personnel - alighted from the vehicle and beat him with the iron butts of their belts and an iron rod found on the side of the road.
When the case commenced in the Federal High Court of Lagos State, the defendants raised the issue of self-defence, alleging that the deceased first hit the military personnel driving the vehicle and ran away.
The defence counsel argued that it was in the course of manhandling the deceased that an angry mob gathered with dangerous weapons, attacked the officers, who then used the deceased as a human shield, to ward off the crowd at the scene of the crime.
But after careful consideration of the evidence (oral and documentary) of the parties in the suit, however, the court found no merit in this defence. The court was of the view that it was inconceivable that an armed mob would attack military officers for merely apprehending a civilian and likewise incomprehensible that none of the officers sustained any injury from the attack.
The court thereby ruled that the assault, which resulted in the death of the deceased was unlawful, wrong and a gross violation of the deceased's right to life.
Similarly, the court ruled that the failure of the Nigerian Armed Forces to ensure that the deceased was given medical care from the injury inflicted on him was a gross violation of his right to life. It also ruled that the death of Mr. Enilari was a consequence of the assault he suffered at the hands of the defendants.
The court, therefore, ordered the defendants to pay N50 million as aggravated damages, jointly and severally.
It also ordered the payment of N295,000 as special damages to cover for the deceased burial expenses.
Similarly, the court also gave an order granting the plaintiffs N35 million for loss and pain caused them by the brutal assault on the deceased which led to his death; and the cost of N250,000 in favour of the plaintiffs. The total payable amount pegged was N85,545 000.
Reacting to the judgment, Chinelo Chinweze, Senior Programme Officer at Access to Justice expressed delight at the court verdict, adding that the organisation hopes the judgement will help scale-back a deeply entrenched climate of impunity within security agencies in the country.
"This climate of impunity feeds the recklessness and unlawfulness of the actions of security forces and law enforcement agencies in varied contexts," she said.
"We see it in Mr. Enilari's case but it is also seen in the conduct of counter-terrorism warfare in the North-east; in the brutal crackdown against members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, (i.e. Shiites) and of IPOB members."
The organisation, however, said it was saddened that it took nearly nine years after the incident to reach the milestone.
"For many victims of human rights abuses, this time standard is just enough to discourage them from pursuing redress and justice for acts of impunity. We need to reform our judicial procedures to reduce the time taken to meet basic justice needs and deliver needed services," Mrs. Chinweze said.