While the nation was engrossed in the Presidential and National Assembly elections the ECOWAS Court on Tuesday 26th day of February, 2019 delivered Judgment in the Suit filed by the Movement Against Fulani Occupation (MAFO) and some individual Plaintiffs against the Federal Government of Nigeria seeking declarations, compensation and damages for various Human Rights violations of some communities in Benue State in the wake of sustained armed Fulani Herdsmen attacks on the said communities. The following are highlights of the judgment:
• The Court dismissed the preliminary objection of the Federal Government to its jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit and proceeded to hear the substantive suit.
• The Court held that the Federal Government of Nigeria violated the human rights of the affected Benue Communities by not protecting them from the attacks and providing succor to them after the attacks and failing to investigate the attacks and prosecute the perpetrators.
• The Court rejected the argument of the Federal Government that what was happening in Benue State was communal clashes between farmers and herders as argued by the FGN and upheld the argument of the Plaintiffs that it was Fulani Herdsmen that were attacking and killing in Benue communities. (This also put paid to the narrative of politicians that Benue people are killing themselves).
• The Court departed from its previous position in a plethora of cases and for the first time (agreeing with us) upheld the: fundamental principle proclaimed in Article 1 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights that: not only do states parties recognize the rights, duties and freedoms enshrined in the Charter, they also commit themselves to respect them and to take measures to give effect to them. In other words, if a state party respect of the rights contained in the African Charter, this constitutes a violation of the Charter, even if the state or its agents were not the perpetrators of the violation. Thus in this case Nigeria was held culpable.
• The Court thus made the following orders:
- That the Federal Government of Nigeria should immediately set up a Commission to enquire into the atrocities committed by Fulani Herdsmen against Benue communities, identify the culprits, prosecute them and take adequate measures to ameliorate the hardship of the victims.
- The Federal Government should immediately deploy machinery in the affected areas and beef up security to forestall further attacks on Benue communities.
• The Court however, declined to award damages and compensation for the victims and affected communities because it held that: the Plaintiffs did not list the names (and details) of the persons killed and injured, the actual properties destroyed and its value etc. (As at the time of filing the suit in April, 2016 these details were not easily available).
• The Plaintiffs will make a formal statement on the development when we receive the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the judgment hopefully on Monday 4th day of March, 2019.
• The Court is a court of first and last resort (its judgments are not appealable to any other court) but it has provisions for review of its judgment. We intend to study the judgment when we receive the CTC and approach the Court with a view to making a case for monetary damages for the victims, the Court having held that their fundamental human rights have been infringed upon by the Federal Government of Nigeria damages should naturally follow.
-Terence Vembe, Esq. (Lead Counsel).
1st day of March, 2019 at Abuja Nigeria.