The National Human Rights Commission on Monday, April 7, 2014 taken its stand in the case against Nigerian soldiers in the infamous Apo killings.
The Commission ruled that the security agents who carried out an operation in an uncompleted building in the Apo district of Abuja on September 20, 2013, did not kill eight squatters in self-defense, as claimed by the State Security Service and the Nigerian Army.
The Commission has thus ordered the Federal Government to pay N135m as compensation to the victims – including N10m for each of the deceased persons, as well as N5m to each of 11 injured survivors.
The NHRC disclosed these in the report of a public hearing it conducted over the incident.
Eight squatters in the uncompleted building died during the early morning operation, which troops comprising operatives of the SSS and the army undertook in an unsuccessful bid to arrest an alleged Boko Haram leader – Suleiman R-Kelly – who was said to have buried arms in the Apo cemetery.
According to the SSS, the fatalities were recorded after suspected Boko Haram members in the building opened fire on the troops, who retaliated.
But, in the wake of contradictory reports that the victims were operators of commercial tricycles, popularly known as Keke NAPEP, the NHRC decided to conduct a public hearing into the development, in line with its constitutional mandate.
A panel of the NHRC, including the Chairman of the Governing Council, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, and the Executive Secretary, Prof. Bem Angwe, took submissions from parties involved in the affair, particularly the three major actors – the SSS, the army and the National Association of Commercial Tricycle and Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association.
While the SSS and the army insisted that they acted in self-defence, and that the victims were members of the Boko Haram sect, NATOMORAS maintained that the attack was unprovoked, and that the victims were its members.
But the NHRC, in its report which was released about three months after the conclusion of the public hearing, held that the SSS and the army lied in blaming the death of the eight squatters and serious injury to 11 others, on a provoked attack.
Announcing the Commission’s decision and orders, Angwe said, “Having investigated this complaint, heard all the parties and examined the relevant laws, the NHRC, exercising its powers under sections 5 and 6 of the National Human Rights Commission Act, 2010, (as amended), hereby determines and declares that the defence of self-defence asserted by the respondents (Federal Government, SSS, army) is not supported by the facts or evidence.”
And, in response to official claims that the victims are members of the Boko Haram sect, the report stated, “There is no credible evidence to suggest or show that the victims in this case were members of Jama’atu ahlus sunnah lid da-awati wal jihad (Boko Haram) or involved in direct participation in hostilities.
“They were, therefore, protected, civilian non-combatants.”
The NHRC added that “Taking account of all the circumstances in this case, the application of lethal force was disproportionate and the killings of the eight deceased as well as injuries to the eleven survivors were unlawful.”
Some other squatters, who were arrested during the operation, were eventually released and banished from the Federal Capital Territory, a development which was equally condemned by the NHRC report.
“There is no basis in law for confining detainees freed by the respondents to internal banishment,” the report said.