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Nigeria: Government Ordered to Pay Local Community

(Feb. 26, 2013) Nigeria’s Federal High Court (FHC) ruled on February 19, 2013, that the federal government must pay 37.6 billion Nigerian naira (about US$240 million) to the community in the town of Odi. (Odi Invasion: Court Orders FG to Pay N37.6bn, VANGUARD (Feb. 19, 2013); Welcome to the Federal High Court Nigeria, FHC website (last visited Feb. 21, 2013).) The Odi community suffered a military raid by the Nigerian army in 1999; the Court determined that the army action, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and considerable property damage, was genocidal and a violation of the human rights of the residents. (Addison Morris, Nigeria Government Ordered to Pay US240 Million for 1999 Local Massacre, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Feb. 21, 2013).)

Justice Lambo Akanbi of the FHC dismissed earlier explanations of the event as due to military necessity. In addition to pictures and other evidence, the judge referred to current Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s statement that the victims were innocent citizens. (Id.; Odi Invasion: Court Orders FG to Pay N37.6bn, supra.)

The judgment was the result of a lawsuit filed by the people of Odi and includes a provision requiring that the payment be made within three weeks from the decision. Justice Akanbi stated that the destruction of the town was comprehensive, that fundamental human rights were violated by a massacre, and that the action was deliberate. In determining the amount to be paid, the judge relied on damage estimates, but noted that no payment could really compensate the people for their pain and trauma. (Odi Invasion: Court Orders FG to Pay N37.6bn, supra.)

The Attorney General, Nkolika Awa, represented the government of Nigeria in the trial. She stated afterwards that she was not overly concerned about the verdict. One report speculated that the lack of concern was due to the fact that the decision covered actions of a previous administration, that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. (Morris, supra.)

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Lucius Nwosu, called the decision “a victory for an aggressive Nigerian Bar, and more a victory for Nigerian Judiciary, particularly the Federal High Court. It’s a reflection of courage, erudition and consideration for justice governed by conscience, truth and good faith.” (Odi Invasion: Court Orders FG to Pay N37.6bn, supra.) Nwosu said of the 1999 incident and its consequences:

It was only old men, women and children, who could not run, that were massacred in that military operation. A situation where you turn guns and artillery purchased with taxpayers’ money against the taxpayers, is a call for sober reflection and a matter of serious concern. It calls for atonement for the dead and compensation for the living, for the trauma and loss they have been made to suffer as refugees and loss of their precious homes, loved ones, friends and objects of reverence. (Id.)