By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Four years after operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS, killed eight persons and wounded 11 others at an uncompleted building in Abuja following a false tip-off that they were members of the Boko Haram terrorist sect, the Federal Government, on Thursday, okayed the payment of N135million compensation to families of the victims.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, said decision to compensate the victims was based on findings by the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, that they were not Boko Haram members as was alleged by security agencies.
A three-man investigative panel of the NHRC led by Prof. Chidi Odinkalu had at the end of a public hearing it conducted after the incident that occurred on September 20, 2013, established that the victims were innocent.
The victims who were squatting in the uncompleted building situated at the Apo District in Abuja, were discovered to be members of the FCT chapter of National Commercial Tricycle & Motorcycle Owners & Riders Association (NACTOMORAS).
In its report, the NHRC indicted the DSS, saying there was no shred of evidence that the victims belonged to the dreaded Jama’atu ahlus sunnah lid da’awati wal jihad, also known as Boko Haram.
Consequently, the commission ordered FG to pay N10m compensation to each of the families of the eight deceased persons, as well as pay N5m to each of the 11 injured survivors.
Meantime, while handing over a cheque of N135m to families of the victims on Thursday, the AGF, said his office had after series of negotiations, persuaded the DSS to accept the verdict.
“I am further glad to inform the public of this gesture (the first of its kind in Nigeria) coming from President Muhammadu Buhari which is confirming his commitment to the rule of law, upholding justice and respect to human rights.
“This gesture also confirms his enduring legacy of ensuring that justice is seen to be done to every Nigerian.
“This gesture in no small measure has emphasized the role of the National Human Rights Commission as an independent organisation which statutory duties involve the promotion and protection of human rights.
“It also serves as an extra-judicial mechanism for the enhancement of the enjoyment of human rights. The Commission performs its statutory ‘ functions without interference from the Federal Government.
“I want to express my deep gratitude and appreciation to Mr President for approving this payment and also his avowed commitment to the security and welfare of the people of Nigeria.
“I commend you all for believing in this government and I can assure you that the government will continue to have the interests of its people as its primary objective”, the AGF stated.
Tracing the history of the case, the AGF, noted that the DSS acted on the basis of an intelligence report that there was to be an attack on unspecified targets in Abuja.
“Acting on the intelligence report the DSS arrested three persons, who under interrogation, disclosed that they have a leader in Abuja called Suleiman (R. Kelly) who is the arrow head of a planned terror attack by boko haram.
“The three suspects claimed they Could lead the Department of State Services to the named Sulieman’ One of the suspects also confessed that they had weapons buried in the Cemetery in Gudu Apo, Abuja FCT,
“On 20, September 2013, a joint security operation conducted by DSS with the assistance of the Nigerian Army, shortly after midnight along with two informants went to the cemetery in Gudu but were unable to recover any weapon. The informants led the security agents to an uncompleted residential building where they claimed Sulieman (R. Kelly) resides.
“Seven men died during the operation from gunshot related wounded, another died in the hospital for wounds sustained during the operation, and 11 other men were hospitalised from injuries sustained in the encounter. All the victims were aged between 18 and 25 years”, the AGF added.
In his remarks, the In-coming Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Mr. Tony Ojukwu, said the commission went through a pains taking exercise to ensure that the right persons are paid.
“All payments relating to this compensation are being made through the bank after verification of the accounts, signatures and photographs of the victims.
“Though it has taken about four years to implement that decision of the Commission, it has come to confirm the posture of the present government to respect human rights.
“By this action today, the Commission feels fulfilled and accomplished that under the present government, it has been able to provide effective remedy for the violation of the rights of the victims of the Apo incident”, Ojukwu stated.
Speaking on behalf of families of the victims, Chairman of FCT chapter of NACTOMORAS, Alhaji Usman Buba Gwoza, thanked President Buhari “for having the political will to agree with the recommendations/orders of the NHRC”.