ABOUT one year after operatives of the State Security Services (SSS) and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) reportedly killed unarmed youths at Emene, in Enugu State, a court has ordered a probe into the incident.
An Enugu State High Court on September 29 ordered Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to set up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the killings, which occurred on August 23, 2020.
The killings took place at Practicing School Emene, where the youths, said to be members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a pro-Biafra group, were observing their Jewish prayers.
It was reported that the SSS operatives stormed the school at about 7:00 am in a bid to arrest the youths.
The security operatives opened fire after the youths attempted to resist the arrest, and casualties were recorded in the clash that ensued.
A dozen patrol vans loaded with armed security agents, comprising police, soldiers and SSS were later deployed to the scene as reinforcement.
Several pro-Biafra agitators were arrested but the Police, SSS and IPOB gave different accounts of the number and identities of victims.
* Police say four persons were killed, five IPOB members arrested
The Enugu State Police Command later announced that four persons, including SSS operatives, died in the incident.
Then Enugu State Commissioner of Police Ahmad Abdurrahman also said the Police arrested five IPOB members.
Although he stressed that the SSS carried out the operation, the commissioner of Police claimed his men and the army got involved after the SSS had called for reinforcements when their men ‘came under heavy fire’ from the youths.
* IPOB says police killed 21 youths, arrested 47
But IPOB, in a statement released shortly after the incident by its Spokesman Emma Powerful, said 21 of the group’s members died in the clash.
The group blamed the Police for the killings and arrests.
IPOB denied claims by the SSS that the secret Police’s operatives were killed by the pro-Biafra agitators during the incident.
* SSS say it lost two men
On their part, the SSS said they lost two of their operatives in the clash with the IPOB members.
In a statement titled ‘Unprovoked violent attack on DSS patrol team in Enugu,’ SSS Spokesman Peter Afunanya said the service lost two personnel when a patrol team was attacked by IPOB members.
* Court orders probe
Following the incident, Nzuko Umunna, a think tank made up of Igbo professionals in Nigeria and the Diaspora, and the Registered Trustees of Christian Network and Community Development, issued a four-week ultimatum to Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to constitute a judicial commission of inquiry into the killings.
The groups, in a letter dated August 27, 2020, stated that the ‘unprovoked attack and murder of the innocent and unarmed’ youths had caused unrest within Enugu and its environs.
The letter, written on behalf of Nzuko Umunna and the Registered Trustees of Christian Network and Community Development by their lawyer Edwin Anikwem, noted that it was one of the governor’s primary responsibilities as the chief security officer of the state to protect the lives and property of citizens.
The groups noted that the judicial commission of inquiry, which is provided under the Enugu State Commission of Inquiry Law, Laws of Enugu State 2004, would ascertain the immediate and remote cause of the killings, unravel the identities of persons involved, recommend appropriate sanctions and proffer suggestions to prevent future occurrence.
The groups eventually took the matter to court when the governor failed to set up the judicial commission of inquiry.
In the suit numbered E/569M/2020 – the Registered Trustees of Christian Network and Community Development & others versus Governor of Enugu State & others – the court was asked to declare that ‘the massacre of 22 unarmed youths’ by the Police and officials of the SSS violated the right to life as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution and Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act Cap A9 LFN 2004.
The court was also asked to declare that the failure and/or refusal of the governor of Enugu State to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to look into the incident amounted to a dereliction of duty.
The groups also asked the court for an order of mandamus compelling the governor of Enugu State to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to unravel the cause(s) of the killings.
Delivering judgment on the matter, the Enugu State High Court presided by Justice Chinyere Ani held that the case had merit.
The court thereby declared: “The 1st respondent (Governor of Enugu State) is hereby ordered to institute a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to unravel the cause(s) of unlawful and illegal killing of 22 unarmed youths at Emene, Enugu, Enugu State, on 23 August, 2020.”
* Group urges Enugu governor to comply with court order
Nzuko Umunna has urged the Enugu State governor to immediately comply with the court order.
In a statement signed by Ngozi Odumuko and Paschal Mbanefo on behalf of the Executive Council, the group commended the court for the judgment and urged Ugwuanyi to, without further delay, set up the long overdue panel of inquiry to unravel the circumstances surrounding the incident.
“In so doing, we urge the governor to appoint only persons of high repute and integrity into the panel with a view to ensuring that such unacceptable killings in peace time do not go unpunished and to serve as a deterrent to other perpetrators,” the group said in the statement.
Nzuko Umunna in the same vein commended other groups and persons who collaborated with it on the case, particularly human rights activist and scholar Sam Amadi, who led the legal team.