The Movement Against Fulani Occupation (MAFO) have filed a suit at the ECOWAS Court against the Federal Government of Nigeria in protest their failure to protect innocent citizens in the face of incessant attacks by Fulani Herdsmen.
Recall that since the beginning of the year, over 600 people have lost their lives to attacks on Benue communities by suspected Fulani herdsmen. Worst hit has been Agate, Apa, Logo, Kwande, Tarka, Gwer-west and Guma local government areas of the state.
The Plaintiffs have therefore claimed that the Federal Government of Nigeria by so doing had violated their sundry Human Rights as enshrined in Articles 3 4, 6, 16, 23, 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
In the suit filed at 10:07 am on Tuesday 12th April, 2016 the Plaintiffs complained to the court that:
Incessant attacks on their communities by Fulani Herdsmen have assumed increasing sophistication and clinical coordination of the group of mindless attackers in combat gears, armed with trademark AK-47 rifles and other sophisticated military grade weapons. They said within the last three years Fulani Herdsmen have carried out over 50 (fifty) major attacks on Benue communities the most prominent of them taking place in 15 out of 23 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Benue State namely, Agatu, Gwer East, Gwer West, Makurdi, Guma, Tarka, Buruku, Katsina Ala, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Oju, Obi and Konshisha.
They said in the wake of the sustained Fulani attacks on their communities, they and the vast majority of Benue rural communities where these attacks have been concentrated have been completely overwhelmed and are now desolate and devastated as they have suffered wanton destruction of their properties and lives including: burning down and general destruction of houses and homes, sundry household items, farms, crops, economic trees, vehicles, machineries, food stuffs, schools etc. Over 1000 people have been killed; hundreds of thousands displaced and living in deplorable make shift camps and properties worth billions of naira destroyed in their communities by these ravaging Fulani Herdsmen this year alone.
They emphasis that the locations of Fulani Herdsmen that carry on these attacks are well known to the Police and the Nigerian Army and other security agencies but they have refused to accost them and prevent further attacks on their communities but have rather given seeming tacit approval to the large concentration of these Fulani militia in neighbouring communities particularly Nasarawa State which allows passage routes and has created safe havens for attackers of Benue Communities at the border especially coastal areas.
They cited an example where on or about the 2nd day of January, 2016, the Benue State Police Commissioner, Paul Yakadi, said after unsuccessfully attempting a tour of Agatu Local Government Area that over 5,000 cows accompanied by armed Fulani herdsmen were occupying part of Agatu Local Government Area of the state. Yet the the Fderal Government has failed and/or willfully neglected to apprehend these criminals.
The Plaintiffs lamented that the Federal Government and its agencies have allowed these invading Fulani Herdsmen to bear sophisticated assault weapons unchallenged against all extant national and state laws.
They similarly stated that most of the attacks are predictable and have assumed ascertainable patterns to the knowledge of the Federal Government and its security agencies but they neglected and or refused to take necessary proactive steps to provide security for the them and their communities.
They further stated that the predictability of these attacks is such that every planting season is heralded by serial attacks by these Fulani herdsmen who also return during the harvesting season.
They told the court that the Federal Government has openly claimed and acknowledged that the Fulani Herdsmen who have persistently unleashed mayhem on their communities and kinsmen are not Nigerians but migrants from neighbouring countries like Chad and Mali who gain entrance into Nigeria due to porous borders, but the government has not taken any steps whatsoever to protect and defend them and their kinsmen from this purported foreign aggression.
They complained that members of a certain Miyetti Allah (umbrella organization of Fulani cattle rearers in Nigeria) of which the President Muhammadu Buhari is Grand Patron have openly confessed to carrying out these dastardly acts on Benue communities but the Federal Government and its agencies has never apprehended them or arrested and prosecuted them.
One of such occasions they said was on Friday 4th day of March, 2016 when Ardo Boderi claiming to be a leader of the Fulani herdsmen, in the presence of the Inspector General of Police at a stakeholders meeting organised by the police and held in Makurdi, claimed that over 10,000 cattle belonging to the Fulani marauders were allegedly killed by people of Agatu and that was why he and his members were attacking and killing people of the Agatu community. Despite this open admission of commission of crime in full glare of the public they said the IGP Solomon Arase never arrested or ordered the arrest of the said Ardo Boderi or caused enquiry or investigation of any kind to be made into this bizarre claim.
The Plaintiffs also complained to the court that in the wake of the Fulani Herdsmen’s dastardly attacks on Agatu communities, President Muhammadu Buhari and his Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazzau (Rtd) who broke their unholy silence a week after over 500 people were killed and 10 villages razed in Agatu LGA announced they have set up an Investigative Panel to enquire into the atrocities committed against their communities, determine the extent of destruction caused by the crises in order to enable government offer compensation to the affected persons/communities and to offer recommendations on ways of forestalling future occurrence of the crisis. But curiously up till today, the said Investigative Panel purportedly instituted by the Federal Government has not been made public or inaugurated.
Another key complaint of the Plaintiffs is that the Federal Government chose to give preference to protection of cows belonging to the criminal Herdsmen as against human lives by deploying heavily armed military men and mobile Policemen to the bushes who have remained there till date to protect the said cows while the Applicants, have been left unprotected and at the mercy of their assailants.
They therefore prayed the court for the following reliefs:
1. A DECLARATION that the failure of the Defendants, their officers, servants, agents and privies to provide security for the Applicants and their properties but rather deploy security operatives to protect cows owned by nomads roaming the bush constitute a gross violation of Applicants’ right to be equal before the law and violates their entitlement to Equal Protection of the Law contrary to Article 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
2. A DECLARATION that the failure of the Defendants, their officers, servants, agents and privies to provide adequate and timely security to the Applicants is a gross violation of the Applicants’ rights to liberty and Security of their persons contrary to Articles 4 and 6 of the African Charter on Human & Peoples’ Rights.
3. A DECLARATION that the Applicants have a right to National and International Peace and Security as enshrined in Article 23 of the African Charter of Peoples and Human Rights, and the failure of the Defendants, their officers, servants, agents and privies to take proactive measures to provide timely and adequate protection for the Applicants and their communities from the occupation of their farm lands and utter destruction of their properties Fulani Herdsmen constitute gross violation of the said rights.
4. A DECLARATION that the current degradation of the environment in the Applicants’ ancestral homes and communities due to destruction of same by Fulani Herdsmen occasioned by failure of the Defendants, their officers, servants, agents and privies to provide adequate and timely security to them is a gross violation of the Applicants’ right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development contrary to Article 24 of the African Charter on Human & Peoples’ Rights.
5. A DECLARATION that the failure of the Defendants to secure the borders of the country constitutes a flagrant violation of the Applicants’ right to National and International Peace and Security as enshrined in Article 23 of the African Charter of Peoples and Human Rights.
6. A DECLARATION that the deplorable state of health that pervades the internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps littered across Benue State constitute gross violation of the Applicants’ and their kinsmen’s right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health as guaranteed by Article 24 of the African Charter on Human & Peoples’ Rights.
7. AN ORDER of this Honourable Court directing the 1st and 2nd Defendants to set up forth with a high powered Investigative Panel to enquire into the atrocities committed by Fulani Herdsmen against Benue communities over the years particularly this year and implement its findings forthwith.
8. AN ORDER of this Honourable Court directing the Defendants to pay to the Applicants and the affected communities in Benue State compensation in the sum of N500 Billion (Five Hundred Billion Naira) only.
9. AN ORDER of this Honourable Court directing the Defendants to pay to the Applicants and the affected communities in Benue State damages in the sum of N500 Billion (Five Hundred Billion Naira) only on the footing of exemplary and aggravated damages for unlawful violation of the Applicants’ rights, the Defendants’ actions being negligent, oppressive, arbitrary, capricious, and for Injuring the dignity and pride of the Applicants and for causing them great physical and psychological trauma.
10. AN ORDER directing the defendants to pay to the Applicants the sum of N25 Million Naira only being cost of prosecuting this suit.
11. Interest at the rate of 25% (twenty-five per centum) per annum on the judgment sum awarded from the date of judgment until the judgment sum is fully liquidated.
The Plaintiffs’ who are represented by their lawyer Mr. Terence Vembe who is also an indigene of Benue state argued relying on several decisions of the African Court of Human Rights that: The law is settled that a fundamental principle proclaimed in Article 1 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights to which Nigeria is a signatory is that: not only do the state parties recognize the rights, duties and freedoms enshrined in the Charter, they also commit themselves to respect them and to take measures to give effect to them. In other words, if a state party fails to ensure respect of the rights contained in the African Charter, this constitutes a violation of the Charter, even if the state or its agents were not the perpetrators of the violation. See the case of Mouvement Burkinabé des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples v Burkina Faso (2001) AHRLR 51 (ACHPR 2001) decided at the 29th ordinary session, May 2001, [Communication 204/97], 14th Annual Activity Report.
They further argued that the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights, unlike other human rights instruments, does not allow for state parties to derogate from their treaty obligations during emergency situations. See the case of Commission Nationale des Droits de l’Homme et des Libertés v Chad (2000) AHRLR 66A (ACHPR 1995) [communication 74/92].
They concluded that: even a civil war cannot be used as an excuse by the state violating or permitting violations of rights in the African Charter. Thus the Federal Government has failed to provide security and stability in the Benue communities, thereby breaching and also allowing serious and massive violations of human rights of the Plaintiffs and members of their communities. Even where it cannot be proved those violations were committed by the Federal Government’s agents, the Federal Government had a responsibility to secure the safety and the liberty of its citizens, and to conduct investigations into murders, invasion and occupation of Benue communities by Fulani Herdsmen. See again the case of Commission Nationale des Droits de l’Homme et des Libertés v Chad (2000) AHRLR 66A (ACHPR 1995) [communication 74/92].
The Plaintiffs in the suit are: Rev. Fr. Solomon Mfa, Rev. Joseph dooga, Dr. Sam Abah, Dr. David Iordaah, Hon. Ochepo yakubu, Hon. Terese Tange, Favour Adah-Paul, Samuel Msonter Ijoho, Iorbee Bajah, Ashi Bajah, Terseer Iorbee Bajah, Movement Against Fulani Occupation (MAFO).
Joined in the suit are: FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, GEN. MUHAMMADU BUHARI (RTD) (in his personal capacity), INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE, NIGERIA POLICE FORCE, IGP SOLOMON ARASE(RTD) (in his personal capacity), CHIEF OF ARMY STAFF, NIGERIAN ARMY, LT. GEN. TUKUR YUSUF BURATAI(RTD)(in his personal capacity)as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Defendants respectively.