Law News
Judge Recuses Himself from SSS Suit Challenging NHRC’s Report on Apo Killings
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Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja 

Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja has recused himself from a suit challenging the report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which awarded N135 million to the relatives of the victims of the September 20, 2013 attack on squatters in Apo district of Abuja by some security agencies.

The suit was instituted by the Department of State Services (DSS), one of the security agencies indicted by the NHRC.

Justice Kolawole cited his personal relationship with the counsel for the NHRC, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), as his reason for withdrawing from the case.

He then directed that the case be returned to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, for re-assignment to another judge.

He said though he was sure his personal relationship with Oyetibo would not affect his impartiality in the case, he said he had nevertheless decided to withdraw from the case in compliance with judicial ethics.

DSS’ counsel, Mr. Solomon Akuma (SAN) had asked the judge to disqualify himself after the judge disclosed his personal relationship with Oyetibo.

Oyetibo and other counsel did not oppose the application.
Justice Kolawole said: “On September 24, I did volunteer information as regards my personal relationship with the counsel for the first to fourth defendants, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN).

“I expressed my readiness to hands off this case if any of the parties – the applicant in particular, had doubts whether the aforesaid relationship will affect my impartiality in the hearing of the case. Oyetibo and I attend same parish and we are both friends.”

The judge said his decision to withdraw from the case was in the interest of the larger society, which had become “ so skeptical and never believes anything can be done straight.”

He added: “I will exercise my discretion to return the case file to the Chief Judge so that it can be re-assigned to another court for hearing.

“There is the need for me to  do this in order that, not only the applicant will have confidence in the judicial process but the respondents, who are the beneficiaries of the award made by the first to fourth respondents, will also have that confidence.

“Consequently this  file shall be taken by the Registrar or Deputy Registrar, Litigation,  Federal High Court,  Abuja, who shall have it reprocessed to the chambers of the Chief Judge as one of the cases which come for re-assignment. This shall be my ruling.”

The first to the fourth respondents in the suit which was instituted by the DSS for the review of the NHRC’s report of investigation are the commission’s Chairman, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, its Executive Secretary, Prof. Bem Angwe, a council member, Saudatu Mahdi, and the NHRC itself.

Other respondents are, Global Rights, Human Rights Law Service, National Association of Commercial Tricycle and Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief of Army Staff and the Attorney-General of the Federation.

The NHRC had in its report released in April 2014 blamed the SSS and the Nigerian Army for the killing of eight and injuring of 11 of the squatters in an uncompleted building in September 2013.

The security forces allegedly attacked the squatters on the allegation that they were suspected members of the Boko Haram Islamic sect.

In its report, the NHRC had in the petition filed by Global Rights and three others vs. Federal Republic of Nigeria and three others, ordered the federal government to, among others, pay a total of N135million as compensation to the victims.

The SSS was expected to pay N10million for each of those killed and N5million to each of the 11 injured survivors.

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