Dayo Oketola, Gbenro Adeoye, Jesusegun Alagbe and Tunde Ajaja
At least nine human rights groups have decided to sue the Federal Government and the Nigerian Air Force for the recent bombing of an Internally Displaced Persons Camp in Rann, Borno State.
These organisations include the Centre for Women, Youth and Community Action; the Civil Society Coalition on Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance; the Justice and Rights Initiative; Campaign for Democracy; and the International Centre for Peace Charities and Human Development.
On January 17, 2017, a Nigerian Air Force jet had erroneously bombed a refugee camp near the Cameroonian border in Rann, Borno State, mistaking it for a Boko Haram encampment.
The bombing left about 234 people dead, including children and six aid workers of the Red Cross, while at least 100 people were injured.
Following this incident, the Chairman of Kala Balge Local Government Area of Borno State, Babagana Malarima, had called on the Federal Government to compensate the victims of the NAF’s bombing.
He said, “Many people have lost their loved ones and most of them were the breadwinners. Over 234 is not a small number. We need to compensate these people.”
In view of this, the Human Rights Watch also called on the Federal Government to compensate the victims.
A senior researcher at the HRW, Mausi Segun, said in a statement, “The Nigerian government should provide prompt, adequate, and effective compensation to the victims and families of the January 17 bombing of the displaced persons camp in Rann, Borno State.”
Malarima and Segun’s calls for compensation of the victims are now being supported by several other human rights organisations who told Saturday PUNCH that they would sue the Federal Government over the incident and ensure victims are adequately compensated.
Subsequently, a prominent human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has indicated his willingness to handle the case pro bono (free of charge).
“I will be willing to take up the matter pro bono. We have to start by establishing how many people were killed. The NAF gave a casualty figure of less than 60, whereas 236 bodies have been buried. Second, we shall find out whether the incident was an accident or sabotage,” he said.
Speaking to Saturday PUNCH, the Executive Director, Centre for Women, Youth and Community Action, Nawani Aboki, said the group would first petition the Federal Government with the support of other international human rights bodies, including the United Nations.
He said, “We are planning to write a petition to the Federal Government so that compensations would be paid and it will be done with the support of the international community because when you talk locally, government doesn’t take it seriously, unlike when the international bodies are involved in the process.
“We are starting with the petition and we will take it up to the level of the United Nations to let the international community know what is happening in Nigeria and to compel the government to pay compensations to all those who were killed.”
Stating that a minimum of N500bn compensation for the victims would be demanded from the Federal Government, Aboki said the figure might be reviewed if it was discovered that more than 234 people died.
He said, “The first step is to determine the total number of people that died. People are talking from uninformed perspectives. How many people have died as a result of the bombing? Based on that, we will be able to assess how much compensation we can demand.
“If we say N500bn, but we find out so many people have died, what do you do? So we need to set up a team to determine the number of people who actually died as a result of the bombing, after which we would now look at how much should be paid as compensation to the various families.”
The President, Campaign for Democracy, Mr. Bako Abdul Usman, also said the organisation would join other NGOs to sue the Federal Government to ensure that the families of the victims are compensated.
He said given the number of persons killed and the attendant pains inflicted on the families, asking for N500bn as damages for the victims was in order.
He added, “We stand with the downtrodden people, and that is the principal ideology in setting up Campaign for Democracy. So, we demand that something should be done speedily, in terms of compensation, to cushion the pain on those who lost their loved ones. We are interested in suing the government and we believe N500bn is worth it.”
Also, the Co-convener, Say No Campaign Nigeria, Ezenwa Nwagwu, said the group would work with other human rights organisations in seeking compensations for the victims.
He, however, said the group’s challenge was to get lawyers who would want to work pro bono, which human rights lawyer Falana had already agreed to do.
He said, “If Femi Falana agrees to go pro bono, take it up and is serious about it, then you can be sure something will happen. We are on board with the N500bn suit.”
Likewise, Mike Opia, the Coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition on Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance based in Awka, Anambra State, said if the Federal Government does not take any action between now and February, it would take it to court.
“N500bn will be adequate compensation because by the last count, over 100 persons had died and we are not even talking about the trauma it will cause for a three-year-old boy who woke up to realise that his daddy and mummy had been killed. So, we will start negotiations from N500bn,” he said.
In a similar manner, Jude Obasanmi, the Chief Responsibility Officer, Josemaria Escriva Foundation and President, Conference of NGOs, said the organisation had already held an emergency meeting on the accidental bombing.
He, however, said some federal agencies had been preventing the organisation from ascertaining the true number of victims affected by the incident.
He said, “We sent a friend in the North to help us get some facts, but as of today, we have not been able to get the names of the victims. They have been preventing him from getting the names and number of persons killed in the bombing and other information like their ages, sexes, and others.
“If there is a coalition or an emerging or partnership of various groups from across the country, with a national outlook, we are disposed to such an arrangement. Part of our core mandate is the protection of the human rights of our people.
“Even though N500bn would not bring back the lives of the people who have died, we are just saying that these people have suffered enough. That amount is not too much at all, but we need to come out as a group to engage the government.”
Obasanmi added that the Conference of NGOs, which has over 140 members, was ready to align with any move to make the government do the needful.
A lawyer and the Executive Director, Justice and Rights Initiative, Justin Gbagir, also said the government must be made to compensate the victims.
He said, the group would align with the coalition of people engaging the government on the issue, gladly.”
A lawyer at the International Centre for Peace Charities and Human Development, Mr. Clement Iornongu, also said, “Certainly, we will partner with other human rights organisations to sue the Federal Government and NAF for the violation of the fundamental human rights of the victims. We are certainly looking into it as an organisation.”
Also, Rev. Fr. Williams Awoshin of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission, Jalingo, Taraba State, said, “We will look at the issue. The Federal Government will be sued.”
Also supporting the calls for compensation of the victims, an official at the Gender Equality, Peace and Development Centre, Prof. Patricia Donli, said, “After the investigations, then the issue of compensation should be looked into.”