…Survivors lament delay, ask FG to comply
By PETER DURU, Makurdi
A VISIT to Zaki Biam, also known as the ‘yam headquarters’ or the ‘food basket of Benue State’, was quite revealing.
Though bustling with activities, the relics of the 2001 infamous invasion by the military that left many dead and villages in ruins, still dot the landscape.
Located in the Sankera axis of Benue State, Zaki Biam and several other communities on that path, including Gbeji, Vaase, Iorja, Tse Adoor, Kyado, Anyiin and Ugba were invaded by troops and reduced to mere rubble following reports of the murder of no fewer than 19 soldiers who were sent to maintain the peace over a lingering crisis involving communities there.
The military attack reportedly resulted in massive destruction of lives and property, which ultimately forced the victims to seek reparation through litigation spearheaded by the late leader of the Benue Development Movement, Dr. Alexander Gaadi, who dragged the Federal Government to court, demanding N200 billion for the victims.
Six years later, and specifically in 2007, what was seen as respite for the victims, came when Justice Lewis Alagoa of the Federal High Court Enugu entered a N41.8 billion judgement against the Federal Government which was eventually pruned to N8 billion in a compromise agreement.
Regrettably, 21 years after the massacre and 15 years after the judgement that was entered in favour of the victims, they are yet to reap from the celebrated verdict of the court.
While many of the survivors of the invasion are dead, many others are actively expecting when they will receive their cheques from government, which appears not to be bothered about their plight and is apparently not doing anything in that regard.
Some survivors of the massacre, who lamented their fate when Arewa Voice visited Zaki Biam, said that it was unbelievable that they were yet to be compensated more than two decades after a valid and subsisting court order.
They wondered why the Federal Government had resorted to dilly- dallying over the matter and buying time in court through unjustifiable court processes all in a bid to frustrate efforts to give effect to the verdict, thereby further worsening their condition.
Elder John Tsafa, the Orya (Village Head) of Tse-Amachigh, Ugbaam Council Ward in Sankera, lamented that his subjects are still suffering the effect of the invasion and had been traumatised by the non-payment of the approved compensation to them by the Federal Government.
Tsafa said: “The money has not been given to us and my subjects are suffering as a result. Our condition is very critical now. Although many people have rebuilt their houses, some have not been able to settle down since that time because their livelihoods were completely destroyed.
“If that compensation is given to us, it will do us a great deal of good. We will be able to pick up our lives again and live normal lives because the truth is that the invasion adversely affected even the survivors, many of who have died untimely deaths because of the pains and trauma they had to live with.”
Also, Dooga Nyiashima, the second Orya of Tse-Amachigh, whose house and belongings were also destroyed, disclosed that 21 years after, he had not been able to overcome the trauma and found his feet. “I have been doing my best but I lost much during the invasion and I have no hope again unless I get compensated to add speed to my life again,” he said.
Recounting his ordeal, Ugodo Ukpelakpela from Tse-hiive said, his two brothers whose houses were burnt during the invasion, were unable to rebuild them until they died and never got compensated.
“It is heartbreaking and we appeal to the Federal Government to pay the compensation so that the victims who are still alive can get the support they need to pick up their lives again while those who died in the course of waiting for the payment can rest peacefully,” he said.
Another resident and survivor, Torhee Taawen who looked dejected and helpless, said: “We have not been compensated and we are suffering but there’s nothing we can do about it. My father’s house was destroyed by the Army in 2001. He could not rebuild it until he died and we built his tomb in the ruins of a wing of the house because it was a big house that accommodated our large family.”
Reacting, the lawmaker representing the Logo/Ukum/Katsina-Ala Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Dr. Richard Gbande urged the Federal Government to be guided by the principles of rule of law and obey the orders of the court by paying compensation to victims of the invasion.
“The Zaki Biam invasion was a sad one and we all expect that government will immediately comply with the court ruling by paying the compensation to alleviate the suffering of the survivors/victims who are my constituents so that they can pick themselves up and push the incident behind them. The time to act is now; it is long overdue and long awaited,” Dr. Gbande said.
Speaking on the issue, the lawyer who led in the suit to secure reparation for the victims/survivors, Mr. Ocha Ulegede narrated the intrigues that trailed the quest for justice for the victims who dragged the matter to court and expressed optimism that solace would soon come the way of the people.
Mr. Ulegede explained that on July 5, 2007 he secured a judgment of N41.8 billion at the Federal High Court Enugu and by October 22, 2007 he garnished the Federal Government’s account for that judgement.
He noted, however, that the intrigue that followed thereafter eventually led to an out-of-court settlement with the Federal Government offering only N8 billion as the full and final payment for the original judgement sum.
But he regretted the setback suffered by the people after the death of Dr Alexander Gaadi who initiated the process and the intrigues that followed after his demise in 2011.
Mr. Ulegede said he eventually signed the final settlement with the government lawyer and the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, at the time, Mr. Mohammed Adoke. “And by February 2015 we entered a consent judgement.
“Then I came to Federal High Court Abuja and filed for garnishee. I secured the garnishee by August 19, 2019 against the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to pay the money to the court as the court directed. But CBN is holding on to the money. They filed an appeal which had not been heard. But even with the appeal they were supposed to pay the money into an interest-yielding account with the Federal High Court.
“That is where we are now. But the Federal Government cannot go back on the N8 billion anymore. Though if that money had been paid into an account as directed by the court from August 2019 when I raised the issue we would have gotten about N720 million as interest. That was not done.
“So the matter has been adjourned to sometime in September after the court vacation. I have been discussing with the CBN lawyer and we believe that God willing, before the end of the year we may have an end to the matter.