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Government ordered by regional court to investigate 2016 Benue killings

5 Mar 2019

The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ordered the Nigerian government to investigate the mass killings and destruction that occurred in Benue state in 2016, identify and prosecute the perpetrators and compensate the victims.

Around 500 people are thought to have died when Fulani militiamen, who were allegedly backed by helicopters, devastated the Agatu community during a series of attacks in 2016.

In a verdict delivered on 26 February on a suit brought by Catholic priest Reverend Father Solomon Mfa and eleven other plaintiffs against the President, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Chief of Army Staff and the Minister of Internal Affairs of Nigeria, the Court also found the Nigerian government in ‘violation of their obligation to protect the human rights of the Agatu Community and prevent its violation.’ It additionally ordered the government to provide adequate security by deploying more security personnel to Agatu ‘to protect the Community and prevent the further occurrences’ of this violence.  

Significantly, the Court rejected the Federal Governments’ description of the violence in Benue state as communal clashes between farmers and herders, and upheld the Plaintiffs’ argument that armed Fulani Herdsmen were attacking and killing communities in Benue. The Court also rejected the contention that the Defendants (the Nigerian government) could not be held responsible for any ethnic crime committed by unidentified and unknown persons.

However, the Court declined to award the monetary compensation of N5,000,000,000 (US$13,869,625.50) requested by the Plaintiffs, as the personal details of victims and the location and value of destroyed properties had not been supplied.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said:  “We welcome the ruling of the ECOWAS Court of Justice and urge the incoming Nigerian government to comply by investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of the 2016 attacks on Agatu as swiftly as possible, and compensating the victims. We also appeal for this action to be replicated for every community in central Nigeria and elsewhere that has been devastated by militia attacks in recent years. It is particularly important to note the Court’s rejection of the characterisation of this violence as ‘farmer-herder clashes’, and its acknowledgment that in reality, armed herders are attacking communities. The ruling validates CSW’s assertion that the ‘communal clashes’ narrative has been rendered obsolete by the sustained, asymmetric and orchestrated nature of the current violence, which can be described legitimately as ethno-religious cleansing.  It is time to end the mischaracterisation of this violence, and for the government to move swiftly to end the impunity that surrounds it.”  

Notes to Editors:

  1. Suit no: ECW/CCJ/APP/11/16 was brought by Reverend Father Solomon Mfa Reverend Joseph Dooga, Dr. Sam Abah, Dr. David Iordaah, Hon. Ochepo Yakubu, Hon. Terse Tange, Favour Adah Paul, Samuel Msonter Ijoho, Iorbee Bajah, Ashi Bajah, Terseer Iorbee Bajah and the Movement Against Fulani Occupation(MAFO).



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