A High Court in Port Harcourt has ordered the Federal Government to pay N37.6bn as compensation to victims of the military invasion of Odi community in Bayelsa State.
The court ordered that a special damage of N17.6bn and a general damage of N20bn be paid to the community as compensation.
It also issued a permanent injunction restraining the respondents and their agents from attacking Odi again.
Soldiers had on November 20, 1999, invaded Odi community after 12 policemen were killed by a group of militants within the area.
But the people of the area in Bayelsa State had dragged the Federal Government to court, demanding N20bn as damages for gross violation of the their rights.
Ruling on the matter on Tuesday in a class suit No.FHC/PH/CP/11/2000 filed by Professor Kobina Keme-Ebi Imananagha, Chief Ndu Gwagha, Chief Shadrack Agadah, Mr. Idoni Ingezi and Mr. Nwaka Echomgbe, the presiding judge, Justice Lambo Akambi, also ordered that the payment be made within the next 21 days.
Akanbi described the attack on the people of Odi as genocidal, reckless, brutish and a gross violation of the rights of the victims to life and to ownership property.
Counsel for the plaintiffs, Lucius Nwosu (SAN), Lawal Rabana (SAN) and Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), prayed the court to affirm that the invasion of Odi by soldiers and the attack on innocent indigenes of the community was a gross violation of the people’s fundamental human rights to life, dignity and personal liberty.
The counsel for the Minister of Defence and a director in the ministry, Mallam Jimoh Adamu, had earlier told the court that he had filed new application seeking for an extension of time, arguing that his principal was not served any of the court processes.
The presiding judge, however, dismissed the application, after going through the courts records and found out that the Attorney General of the Federation was served the court processes.
Justice Akanbi described the claim by counsel for President Goodluck Jonathan that troops were deployed in Odi in November 20, 1999 to flush out secessionist militants who had killed seven policemen as false.
According to him, such a claim contravenes the President’s recent statement on Nigerian Television Authority that no militant was killed in Odi during the military incursion, but innocent indigenes of the community.
Justice Akanbi pointed out that Jonathan’s declaration on the matter was an acknowledgement of the enthronement of the rule of law as opposed to the enthronement of guns.
According to him, the president’s statement is a proof to the international community that Nigeria is now governed by those who respect the law.
Describing the destruction of Odi as comprehensive and total, Akanbi noted that nothing was spared by the marauding soldiers.
He added that the Federal Government brazenly violated the fundamental human rights of the victims to movement, life and to own property and live peacefully in their ancestral home.
Nwosu, who is the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, hailed the judge for his courage towards putting an end to executive recklessness in the society.
Also, the counsel for the President and Chief of Defense Staff, Akolika Awa Esq, commended the stance of the presiding judge despite the outcome of the case.