A Federal High Court in Abuja has awarded a N500 million in damages against Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State for violating the fundamental rights of Murtala Ajaka, the Social Democratic Party (SDP)’s candidate in the November 11 governorship election in the state.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgement on Thursday, also directed Governor Bello to tender a public apology to Ajaka “for the gross and unwarranted violation” of his rights.
Justice Ekwo equally made an order directing the security agencies and their heads, listed as 2nd to 7th respondents, to provide maximum security and ensure Ajaka’s safety, including his property, within Abuja, Kogi and Nigeria before, during and after the governorship poll held November 11.
The judge further made “an order of injunction, restraining the security agencies from arresting/abducting, detaining and/or further harassing, intimidating, shooting/threatening the applicant’s life and properties.”
Mr Ajaka had, in the originating motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/952/2023 dated and filed on July 11 by S.E. Aruwa, SAN, sought protection from the court.
The SDP candidate sued Mr Bello; Nigeria Police Force; I-G; Kogi Commissioner of Police; Department of State Service (DSS); DSS DG as 1st to 6th respondents, respectively.
The applicant also joined the Director of DSS Command in Kogi; Commandant-General, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC); Chief of Defence Staff; Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Naval Staff as 7th to 11th respondents in the case.
He said he firmly believed that as soon as the originating processes for the enforcement of his fundamental rights were served on the respondents, they would intensify efforts, albeit illegally, to force him to Kogi to be killed.
He said prior to this time, he had contested in the Kogi governorship primary election under the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Ajaka averred that to dissuade him from contesting the APC primary, the governor, who had announced his cousin brother, Alhaji Usman Ododo, as his successor, pointedly demanded that he stepped down.
“He (Bello) further accompanied this demand with threats to take my life on failure of compliance,” he alleged.
The applicant said in view of the foregoing, he sought audience with the then President, Muhammadu Buhari, where he intimated him of these threats with a request for intervention and protection.
“The president, in response, requested that the applicant make a formal report to his official and relevant security agencies, which he did,” he alleged.
He further alleged that Bello’s schemes became unwieldy when he (Ajaka) moved to the SDP and secured the party’s ticket as its governorship candidate for the Nov. 11 poll.
“That after leaving the APC for the SDP, the applicant was still being threatened by the overt and covert acts of the 1st respondent (Bello)
“That the 1st respondent has co-opted the 2nd to 11th respondents in threatening the right to life, liberty and association of the applicant,” he alleged.
He alleged that on June 3, he left Abuja to pay a courtesy visit to the Ohimege of Koto at KotonKarifi.
He said no sooner had he departed and was heading to Lokoja to pay a courtesy call at the palace of the Mai Gari of Lokoja than the vehicle he was travelling in was hit 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 highlighted 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.
“That several vehicles belonging to the applicant and his supporters were riddled with bullets and demobilised, two other vehicles branded with the applicant’s party (Social Democratic Party) Logo were set ablaze by the men of the 2nd and 5th respondents on the direct order of the 1st respondent,” he said.
Ajaka, who alleged that the deliberate attempt at assassinating him was made under the direct supervision of the governor, urged the court to grant his reliefs in the interest of justice.
Gov. Bello, in his preliminary objection, sought an order striking out the suit for want of jurisdiction and another order setting aside the earlier order of the court made on July 13 for want of jurisdiction.
Giving eight grounds for the objection, he said Ajaka had filed the action against him, a sitting governor of Kogi.
He argued that the applicant did not sue him in his official capacity as the Attorney-General of Kogi was not a party to the suit.
Besides, he argued that the alleged breach of Ajaka’s fundamental right and all facts constituting the breach as per his affidavit in support of the originating motion occurred in Kogi, hence, the suit was incompetent, among others.
The governor also disagreed with Ajaka that he (Ajaka) was an aspirant in the APC primary poll.
Bello submitted that there was an existing court order barring Ajaka from participating in the said primary election.
He said he had neither dissuaded the SDP candidate from contesting the APC governorship primary elections nor did he at any time pointedly demanded that he stepped down as he was ineligible to even contest the said primary election.
Bello equally denied issuing any threat against Ajaka to take his life for failure to comply with anything whatsoever.
The governor, who denied anointing any successor, said Ododo contested the APC primary poll and won on his own merit.
He said the 2nd to 11th respondents are all federal agencies and not under his command and control, thus, he could not have co-opted them to threaten Ajaka’s right to life, liberty and association.
He 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.
Bello said all through the episode, he never alighted from his vehicle nor did he order any person to open fire on either Ajaka’s vehicle or any vehicle whatsoever as the officers of the relevant security agencies attached to his convoy were charged with his security and carried out their duties within the ambit of the law.
Delivering the judgement, Justice Ekwo said he found that none of the governor’s averments in the entire affidavit, was specific.
“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,” he said.
He held that Bello’s counter affidavit was so feeble and had failed to effectively challenge Ajaka’s case.
“It is also the law that affidavit evidence which is not challenged or controverted howsoever, is deemed admitted and can be relied upon by a court,” he said.
The judge also 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.
According to him, it is my opinion that it is in the attempt of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents to make a case to cover up for the act of the 1st respondent and the officers of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th respondents that has caused the obvious inconsistencies in their evidence.
He held that none of the respondents’ affidavit evidence was able to address the incident of June 3, which was the subject matter of Ajaka’s case.
His words: “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 in the case for having found no evidence implicating them in 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 on June 3 was reprehensible and a gross violation of his right to life and dignity of his human person.
This, he said, is 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.