Three months after the ECOWAS Court delivered judgement directing the federal government to pay N88billion compensation to victims of the Nigerian Civil War in three geo-political zones, the plaintiffs are yet to receive the money.
About 1,178 war victims were supposed to have been paid a total of N88billion within 45 days of the ruling, counting from Monday, October 30, 2017.
LEADERSHIP Sunday reports that the federal government had, on Monday, October 30, 2017, agreed to remove unexploded military ordnance in the 10 affected states, such as landmines, locally fabricated weapons and a stockpile of bombs found in about 1, 317 locations in the three zones within 60 days as well as reconstruct damaged public buildings.
The affected states are the five states in the South East zone – Imo, Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, and Enugu; Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta, and Cross River from the South South, and Benue from North Central.
According to the judgement, the sum of N50 billion out of the N88 billion would be for the payment of compensation to victims while the remaining N38 billion is for the purpose of destroying landmines and reconstruction of affected public buildings destroyed during the 1967-1970 civil war.
The agreement was part of the resolution reached by the federal government and other parties following a suit filed on behalf of the victims at the ECOWAS Community Court, which gave its judgement in Abuja.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered exclusively that the federal government was to, as part of the agreement, rebuild mines-affected facilities, including providing alternative classrooms in communities where schools were used as storage rooms for mines.
Investigations further revealed that before the matter was brought to court, the government, through the Ministry of Defence, had commissioned a landmine clearing firm to pick up the leftover military ordnance, but work was halted midway as a result of the large number of abandoned unexploded bombs discovered and the initial refusal of the government to review the contract.
The suit filed by 20 plaintiffs, led by Vincent Agu on behalf of other victims and their communities, was marked ECW/CCJ/APP/06/2012.
The six respondents to the suit, who agreed to the consent judgement, included the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the two companies contracted by the federal government in 2009 to de-mine the affected areas – RSB Holdings Nigeria Ltd and Deminers Concept Nigeria Ltd.
Parties to the suit also agreed that the terms of settlement shall operate as “full and final settlement of all claims” arising from the suit marked: ECW/CCJ/APP/06/2012 and two other suits filed on the same issue.
The other suits covered by the agreement are ECW/CCJ/APP/10/2014 (Dr. Sam Emeka Ukaegbu & 7 others v. President, FRN & 6 others) and ECW/CCJ/APP/11/2014 (Placid Ihekwoaba & 19 others v. President, FRN & 6 others).
The schedule to the judgement disclosed that the plaintiffs would be the beneficiaries of the N50 billion compensation while the two companies engaged for the destruction of the landmines would be the beneficiaries of the N38 billion.
Speaking on the implication of not clearing affected areas, a bomb expert, Mr. Juwe Owoeye, described landmines as “the perfect soldier because they can lie hidden in the ground or vegetation for years even after a conflict has ended, out of sight, until a victim triggers one and it explodes.”
He noted that landmines are usually laid in strategic areas in order to protect military positions, important infrastructure, or to deny access to enemy forces and sometimes to terrorise civilian populations.
Owoeye said that, unfortunately, anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines cannot distinguish between military and non-military targets, meaning that innocent civilians and regular vehicles, such as cars and trucks, can indiscriminately become victims of these explosives.
“Landmines do not just have an impact on people’s lives and limbs; the fear of their presence also prevents people from using potentially productive agricultural land and from rebuilding important infrastructure,” he said.
“The fear of landmines can also block access to vital resources when they are laid on paths, such as water or firewood, or block vehicle access on roads, preventing services from reaching communities and the access of those communities to vital economic markets.”
As part of the terms of agreement, the federal government had promised to effect the payment through Chukwukadibia & Co and Deminers Concept Nigeria Ltd.
A source who pleaded anonymity told LEADERSHIP Sunday that all the parties to this suit had classified 685 as survivors, 493 of them victims of landmines and other dangerous military ordnance, including locally fabricated weapons; hence they are entitled to compensation, including their families and communities.
A source at the ECOWAS court registry who pleaded for anonymity stated that the regional organisation was going to enforce judgement on the federal government.
He said:”Normally, when such judgement is passed upon a stakeholder, we usually wait for the time given to elapse. Like in the case here, the 45 days have passed and the court added another 45 days, totalling 90 days; that also elapsed on January 31, 2018.”
“We have waited, increased the dateline but since the federal government has failed to respond, on February 1, 2018, we will serve them (FG) with the enforcement procedure. The fact is that the ECOWAS court is fed up with passing judgements that stakeholders usually ignore. So, in this case, we will enforce judgement.”
Meanwhile, when asked if the over 1,300 bombs in his possession have been destroyed, the contractor, a bomb expert and professor of Humanitarian Management, Prof. Bala Yakubu, who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday from a hospital in London, said: “Those bomb are still in our stockpile and they are getting me disturbed.”
According to him, though the federal government posted seven soldiers to the stockpile centre to reinforce security, the continuous keeping of over 1,300 bombs was harmful.
He said, “I don’t know why government should be careless about this issue that is covered in the judgement. I have been crying that they pay up so that we commence immediate destruction of these dangerous bombs and if government is not interested in paying for the clearance, they should tell us so that we get out of the place for them.”
The bomb expert disclosed that he had destroyed 17,683 bombs and 685 landmines abandoned during the civil war.
“My concern is to save people’s lives. Any premature explosion in that stockpile would be deadly because both the soldiers guarding there, my staff and the entire street will not come out alive. This disaster can be avoided.
“I’m not even looking at the angle of those already injured; I’m bothered about those who might be injured again. My message is that aside the unrecovered ones in the bushes, innocent victims could be saved,” he said.
Prof. Yakubu lamented that he had been accused of diverting the project fund.
“I wrote officially to Chief Femi Falana and copied the Attorney General to complain about the bombs and the allegations from victims and survivors; insinuations are that I do not want to provide their rehabilitation programme which government paid me to do. This is serious embarrassment to Deminers and RSB.”
On his part, the chairman, Implementation Committee of the judgement, Prince Charles Onuha, explained that it was a consent judgement and the federal government through its lawyer, Chief Femi Falana (SAN), opted for an out-of-court settlement with the lawyers of the victims.
Dr Onuha acknowledged that the amount prescribed was in two forms – N38bn for the clearance of the remaining bombs in the South East, of which some section of the fund had already been obtained, while N50bn is for compensation to victims.
“Unfortunately, 90 days after, the federal government has been foot dragging in releasing the money contrary to the ECOWAS judgement,” he said.
The chairman added that he expects ECOWAS court to pass the government of Nigeria an execution order.
“If this is done, the federal government must within a space of days, in line with ECOWAS procedure and principles, comply.
Onuha urged President Muhammadu Buhari to respect the international court judgement and stressed the need for quick response in order to relieve the sufferings of the victims.
Meanwhile, the federal government has not given reasons why it has not paid the N88 billion compensation money to civil war victims despite the international court ruling.
When contacted, Chief Femi Falana (SAN), federal government’s counsel and arrowhead for the implementation of the consent judgement, declined to speak on the matter.
Also, the desk officer at the Ministry of Justice, Mrs Nebo, also refused to make comments.