Simon Utebor, Yenagoa
A Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, has ordered the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Presidential Amnesty Programme headed by Col. Milland Dixion Dikio (rtd) to pay litigation costs of N20,000 to a Bayelsa-based lawyer, Ibanga John.
The court awarded the cost as a penalty for FMJ and PAP’s failure to appear in court over a suit of non-inclusion in the Amnesty programme brought against them by 19 aggrieved ex-Niger Delta militants.
The Presiding Judge, Justice Jane Inyang, while awarding the cost against them on Monday waived aside the excuses offered for the non-appearance of their lawyers in court and ordered that the cost must be paid before the adjourned date of December 9, 2020, following complaints of alleged delay tactics being adopted on the suit that has lasted since 2013.
Counsel for ex-militants, Ibanga John, had at the resumed sitting of the court, attempted to brief the presiding judge on the phone conversation between him and the counsel for the Federal Government, Nnemeta Timothy-Hart, and counsel for the Amnesty office on the reasons for their non-appearance.
However, his explanation was discountenanced and Justice Inyang immediately awarded the cost over the issue of “suspected delay antics” of the defence team.
The aggrieved ex-militants, Asenekiri Oyinle, Angiama-Owei Oyindoubra, John Government, Henry Gomeromo, John Sawyer, Trydi Okpeke, Dollar Motor, Selebi Ayowei, Bobra Angese, Ekerebi Umber and others, had dragged the Federal Government and the Amnesty office to court over their non-inclusion in the scheme.
The ex-militant leaders, in suit No. FHC/YNG/CS/102/2013, alleged the Amnesty office erred by refusing to include them in the ongoing Amnesty programme after series of resolutions from meetings with the past and present National Security Advisers, late General Owei Azazi and Col. Dasuki Sambo (retd.), respectively.
They said: “Instead of respecting the resolutions and directives from the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, the Amnesty office turned down the call to include them and adopted a divide and rule tactics with the inclusion of only three out of the 22 persons.”
In two separate objections to the suit, the Federal Government and the Amnesty office had on April 24, 2014, and March 2, 2015, respectively argued over lack of jurisdiction.
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While the Federal Government, which allegedly failed to appear in court since the filing of the objection, argued that the Federal Government is a public officer and under the Public Officer Protection laws, three months had elapsed and the suit on non-inclusion could no longer be heard by the court.
The Amnesty programme started in 2009 while the claimants said they surrendered arms in 2011.
The Amnesty office, in its objection, claimed that “Amnesty is a privilege, not a right, and they cannot litigate.”
The counsel for the ex-militants had argued that the case of jurisdiction did not arise as “the ex-militants have submitted copies of FG Amnesty identification cards, proof of bank details which confirmed they embraced the scheme when it was right and due hence they have the right to litigate.
“The failure of the Amnesty office to appear in court or settle out of court, as requested by them and ordered by the court, showed that the settlement option has failed.”
Recall that the aggrieved ex-militants in a statement of claim against the Presidential Amnesty Implementation Committee had sought a court order compelling the Amnesty office to approve reasonable slots for them as agreed at one of the peace meetings on December 19, 2011.