Court Orders Gov Bello To Pay SDP’s Candidate N500m

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A Federal High Court in Abuja has fined Kogi Governor Yahaya Bello N500million over in damages over the June 3 attack on, and attempted assassination of the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the last governorship election Murtala Ajaka.

Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment on Thursday, ordered Bello to tender public apology to Ajaka “for the gross and unwarranted violation” of his fundamental human rights.

The judgment was on a right enforcement suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/952/2023 by Ajaka, in which he accused the Kogi Governor of instigating security agencies to attack him and eliminate him over his decision to challenge Bello’s alleged anointed candidate, Ahmed Ododo, who contested on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

He alleged that on June 3, while he left Abuja to pay courtesy visit to the Ohimege of Koto at Koton-karfe, his convoy was attacked after leaving the palace of the Maigari of Lokoja “with hail of bullets in an unprovoked attack against him and his supporters.

“In the midst of the confusion, the vehicle the applicant was travelling in was overtaken by a vehicle with the insignia of the government blocked the expressway, and then the 1st respondent (Bello) physically alighted from the vehicle while ordering the men of the 2nd and 5th respondents (police and SSS) to again open fire on the vehicle of the applicant and his motorcade.”

Ajaka added that several of his vehicles and those belonging to his supporters were riddled with bullets and demobilised; with two other vehicles, branded in his party’s logi set ablaze by the men of the 2nd and 5th respondents allegedly on the direct order of the 1st respondent (Bello).”

The SDP candidate claimed that the deliberate attempt at assassinating him was made under the direct supervision of the governor in an effort to prevent him from contesting the election.

Listed as respondents in the case are the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Kogi State Commissioner and the State Security Service (SSS) (who are 1st to 6th respondents).

Others are the Director General of the SSS; the Director, SSS Kogi State Command; Commandant-General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC); Chief of Defence Staff; Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Naval Staff (listed as the 6th to 11th respondents).

Bello denied Ajaka’s allegations, queried the court’s jurisdiction over the case and accused the SDP candidate of instigating an attack against his person.

He argued that the security agencies and offices listed as respondents in the suit are federal agencies, which are not under his direct control, adding that he could not have instigated them to threaten Ajaka’s right to life, liberty and association, as claimed by the applicant.

Bello alleged that Ajaka, in company of thugs and armed militia men, attacked and obstructed his convoy along the Abuja-Kogi Expressway which prompted officers and men of the 2nd to 5th respondents to repel the attacks from the criminals.

The Governor stated that, all through the episode, he never came down from his vehicle and did not order any person to shoot at either Ajaka’s vehicle or any other vehicle .

He added that since the security personnel of the various security agencies, attached to his convoy were charged with ensuring his security, they carried out their duties within the ambit of the law.

Justice Ekwo, in his judgment on Thursday, held that Bello was evasive in his attempt to deny Ajaka’s allegations.

The judge said he found that none of the governor’s averments in the entire affidavit, was specific.

He added: “In other words, they are merely general averments. Furthermore, none of the averments specifically mentions the incident of 3rd June, 2023 and proffer a defence thereto.”

Justice Ekwo found that averments in Bello’s counter affidavit were feeble and failed to effectively challenge Ajaka’s allegations.

The judge said he found that the account of what transpired on June 3 by the governor’s Aide De Camp (ADC), DSP Iwanger Ifeoma Akaya, was in conflict with the account of SP Elvis Aguebor, who was also at the scene.

“It is not hard to see that the 1st respondent was acting clever when he sent his Aide De Camp to make a report to the same police that acted in concert with him at the scene of the shooting, after preventing the applicant (Ajaka) from entering Lokoja,” he said.

Justice Ekwo added: “It is my opinion that it is in the attempt of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents (the security agencies) to make a case to cover up for the act of the 1st respondent (Bello) and the officers of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents that has caused the obvious inconsistencies in their evidence.”

The judge observed that none of the respondents’ affidavit evidence was able to address the incident of June 3, which was the main subject of Ajaka’s case.

Justice Ekwo said: “It is my finding that the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th respondents violated the rights of the applicant as enshrined in Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“The case of the applicant succeeds on the merit against the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th respondents in this case and I so hold.

“In awarding damages in this case, I will take into account the trauma of the applicant of being shot at by those whose statutory duty is to protect the citizens, acting under the command of the 1st respondent (Bello) who is statutorily the chief security officer of a state for a cause that is manifestly unlawful but inhuman.

“I will also take into consideration the physical and mental anguish of the applicant when he stood in utter helplessness and watched the 1st respondent using his political might through the apparatus of the state for security and law enforcement to shoot and burn down the campaign vehicles of the applicant’s political party.

“I will further take into account the near-death experience of the applicant and the mental torture that comes with it, when the vehicle in which he was, was riddled with bullets from the guns that ought to have been used to protect him and other citizens.

 

“It must be understood that fundamental rights of all citizens are sacrosanct and unless as authorised by law, any action by which an unlawful breach thereof is successfully proved, will be determined to reflect the depth of condemnation by the court.”

The judge struck out the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th respondents from the case in the grounds that he found no evidence linking them to the incident of June 3 or any claim against them.

He declared that the unprovoked shooting at Ajaka, his cars and his supporters by armed officers of 2nd to 7th respondents and Bello’s thugs on June 3 was reprehensible and a gross violation of his right to life and dignity of his human person as enshrined under Sections 33 and 34 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Articles 4 and 5 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap. A9 Laws of the Federation, 2004.

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