By Olanrewaju Oyedeji
Concern is rising on the possibility of a deepening of the current thaw in relations between Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, The Difference has learnt.
Observers say that some of the areas of concern include the expression of disquiet from the current administration on the saddle in Africa’s most populous nation, which is said to be bothered about how little it is getting in the scheme of affairs in ECOWAS despite the country being the widely acknowledged single largest national financier and promoter of the sub-regional grouping.
Other areas of concern include Nigeria’s reservations on the EU-West Africa Economic Partnership Agreeement, EPA which Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently expressed was yet under review and what one policy watcher described as ‘the growing tendency of the ECOWAS Court to entertain all manner of lawsuits being brought to the community court by aggrieved Nigerians.’
The situation with the ECOWAS Court has also not been helped by the fact that some of the suits in question are indeed high profile political ones. A notable one in this regard is that by embattled former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.
On Wednesday, the ECOWAS Court imposed a fine of $3.3 million on Nigeria over the extra-judicial killing of eight citizens in the Apo District of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.
The regional court ordered the country to pay a compensatory damage of $200,000 to each of the family of its Nigerian citizens killed and $150,000 to each of the injured by a combined team of soldiers and operatives of the Department of State Security Service (DSS) during a raid of an uncompleted building the Apo Area of Abuja.
The eight Nigerians killed when the security personnel opened fire on them were later found to be commercial motorcycle (okada) riders who were taking refuge in the uncompleted building as a result of skyrocketing cost of house rent in the capital city.
Those killed are Nura Abdullahi, Ashiru Musa, Abdullahi Manmman, Buhari Ibrahim, Suleiman Ibrahim, Ahmadu Musa, Nasir Adamu and Musa Yobe.
Eleven others sustained various degrees of injury from the bullets of the soldiers and DSS operatives. They are Muttaka Abubakar, Sani Abdulrahman, Nuhu Ibrahim, Ibrahim Mohammed, Ibrahim Aliyu, Yahaya Bello, Abubakar Auwal, Yusuf Abubakar, Ibrahim Bala, Murtala Salihu and Sanni Usman. Al were were reported to have escaped death by the whiskers.
A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), The Incorporated Trustees of Fiscal and Civil Right Enlightment Foundation, had on behalf of the deceased dragged Nigeria, the Army and DSS before the regional court to challenge the legality of the killing of the eight commercial motorcyclists and the injuring of others who were armless when the security men invaded their apartment.
In the judgement of the ECOWAS Court delivered on Wednesday by presiding Justice Friday Chijioke Nwoke, Nigeria was found liable of brutal killing of defenceless citizens contrary to the provision of the local and international law on the fundamental rights of citizens to life.
The panel of three Justices headed by Justice Nwoke condemned the killing as barbaric, illegal and unconstitutional and a breach of the fundamental rights of the deceased to life.
The court rejected the plea by Nigeria that its security personnel killed the deceased in attempt to defend themselves, adding that there was no iota of evidence that any of the deceased carried cutlass or guns against the security men when they invaded their house.
Justice Nwoke said that the action of the security personnel constituted a serious abuse of power and misused of firearms against innocent citizens, because there was no conflict that should have warranted opening fire on the defenceless citizens.
He said: “There is no evidence of any attempt that the deceased and the survivors attempted to harm the security personnel. There is no evidence of recovered guns. There is no evidence of bullet or is pellets recovered from the deceased and tendered before this court to prove the claim that the Nigerian security personnel acted in self-defence when they storm the house of the deceased.
“Rather the evidence abounds that the victims were unharmed while the security personnel were the one that open fire on the innocent and the defenceless citizens.”
Justice Nwoke further said that the burden of proof that the security personnel acted in self-defence lays on the head of the defendants and the in the instance case since the burden has not being proved in anyway, we have no difficulty in arriving at a conclusion that claim is baseless and hereby rejected.
Reasonableness suggests that an officer of any sort must act without passion or prejudices in a non-conflict zone, he said. Consideration, he said, should have been made with regard to persons who might have occupied the house in error and who are not among the suspected terrorists being looked for by the security personnel.
It could be recalled that a combined team of soldiers and DSS operatives acting on alleged presence of Boko Haram terrorists in an uncompleted building in Apo District of Abuja had on September 20, 2013 carried out a deadly raid on the house and open fire on the commercial motorcycle riders who were using the building as their place of abode.
With an apparent intent to improve relations with Nigeria, the new leadership of the ECOWAS Commission, led by its President, Alain de Souza, had shortly after its assumption of office paid a courtesy call on Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari.
President de Souza who was accompanied by the full compliments of senior officials of the ECOWAS Commission had earlier visited the Nigerian ministry of Foreign Affairs where he conferred with the Minister of State Hajia Khadija Bukar Ibrahim before proceeding to talk with the Nigerian President at the Presidential Villa.
Discussions during the meetings were reportedly centered on matters of urgent regional importance, collective security, finances, Common External Tariffs (CET), the Economic Partnership agreement (EPA), intra-community trade as well as reforms and adjustments at ECOWAS.
The new ECOWAS Chief Executive affirmed that he was desirous of consolidating the age-long collaboration between the regional group and Nigeria and to strengthen the existing framework of cooperation, stating that, Nigeria alone constitute 200 million of the 320 million people in West Africa “We refer rightly to Nigeria as the locomotive engine of West Africa and problems cannot be solved without the locomotive being involved. So there is a leadership role Nigeria has to play,” he had asserted.