Biafran suit in America: US rejects Nigeria’s defence of immunity


In a counter Motion filed on February 6, 2018, the US-based
lawyers for the Biafran plaintiffs who brought suit against some
Nigerian officials have strongly urged a United States federal court
to proceed to trial on the merits, stressing the damning fact the the
US State Department has rejected a request from the Buhari-led
Nigerian government for the State Department to intervene and
stop the suit based on the sovereign immunity defense.
At Page 4 of the 35-page Motion obtained by this reporter,
Plaintiffs lawyers stated that “Despite an overture by the
Government of Nigeria, the United States Department of State has
refrained from suggesting any Defendant is immune from
Plaintiffs’ TVPA claims under federal common law or otherwise.
Neither has the State Department suggested that any Defendant is
a head of state in Nigeria”.
The counter Motion was necessitated by a motion filed by defence
lawyers to dismiss the suit based on grounds that included the act
of state doctrine, lack of jurisdiction and sovereign immunity. Dr
Bruce Fein and associates, lawyers to the Biafran Plaintiffs argued
in-opposite that such defenses are not allowed under the Statutes
upon which the suit was brought.
Plaintiffs’ counsel also argued that defence Motions are
questionable because the defense lawyers are, before the court,
fighting amongst themselves as to who should be recognized to
represent the defendants.
The case is pending before the United States District Court for the
District of Columbia against sixteen Nigerian officials for their
direct or indirect complicity in the extrajudicial killings of IPOB
members/Biafrans who had launched peaceful protests in the
wake of arrest and detention of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
The officials are: Tukur Yusuf Buratai; Lawal Musa Daura; Ibrahim
Attahiru; M.I. Ibrahim; Kasim Umar Sidi; Issah Maigari Abdullahi;
Solomon Arase; Ibrahim Kpotun Idris; Okezie Ikpeazu; Willie
Obiano; Habila Hosea; Peter Nwagbara; James Oshim Nwafor;
Hosea Karma; Bassey Abang; and Johnson Babatunde Kokomo.
In the counter motion, counsel to Plaintiffs argued, amongst
others, that jurisdiction has vested through service of the
summons and complaint by certified international courier on all
The Suit is grounded on two muscular United States’ statutes – the
Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA or ATS – the Alien Tort Statute); and
the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Both laws have
extraterritorial reach, meaning that they allow US federal courts to
assert long-arm jurisdiction that extends beyond the borders of
United States.
Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) provides that ‘the district courts shall
have original jurisdiction on any civil action by an alien (foreigner)
for a civil wrong committed in violation of the law of nations or a
treaty of the United States’. Since 1980, courts have interpreted
this statute to allow foreign citizens to seek remedies in US courts
for human rights violations for conduct committed outside the
United States.
Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 is a statute that permits civil
suits in the United States against foreign individuals who – acting
in an official capacity for any foreign nation – committed torture
and/or extrajudicial killings.
In the suit, Plaintiffs lawyers argued that ‘The factual case against
the Defendants is convincing. The world already knows of the
widespread beatings and slaughter of protesting Igbos/IPOB by
elements of Nigerian security forces at various locations after
Nnamdi Kanu was arrested. Amnesty International and other
credible foreign sources have confirmed those killings and torture’.
Those reports were filed in Court.
Beyond the latest processes, and at the ensuing trial, Defendants
will be required to personally appear before the US court to testify
under oath and probing cross-examination that will dwell on the
details of the IPOB killings and the complicity of other unnamed
Nigerian officials.



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