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|Unknown Soldier: The Invasion Of Kalakuta Republic by Babasessy(m): 10:22am On Aug 16, 2011|
Unknown soldier: The invasion of Kalakuta Republic
Shortly after the destruction of the Kalakuta Republic by soldiers from Abalti Barracks, Surulere in Lagos in February 1977, the late renowned woman activist, Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and two of her children, Fela and Beko slammed a N25 million suit against the Federal Military Government. The family however, lost on the ground that their house was destroyed by unknown soldiers. FRANCIS FAMOROTI, DEPUTY HEAD, JUDICIARY, highlights the sad episode and the legal battle.
Prior to the February 18, 1977 invasion of Kalakuta Republic by soldiers from Abalti Barracks, Surulere, House No 14A, Agege Motor Road, Moshalashi, owned by the Ransome-Kuti family was always a beehive of activities. Notable faces in the house were the matriarch of the Ransome-Kuti family, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, two of her children, Fela and Beko. Fela Anikulapo- Kuti, Afro beat King, also resided in the building and used a section of the compound for his entertainment outfit, the Kalakuta Republic, while Beko, a medical doctor, operated a private clinic in the premises. There were equally other occupants of the premises numbering about 50, who were mainly Fela’s employees, drivers, band boys and stage girls. From the accounts of the invasion in evidence before the court, two of Fela’s boys, Segun Adams and Segun Ademola had a brawl with a military policeman at Ojuelegba, Surulere over a minor traffic offence.
The young men drove a Land Rover vehicle belonging to Fela, when they were stopped by a traffic officer who questioned them as to why they failed to carry a plate number in the front. They told the officer that the vehicle had a plate number at the back. There was an attempt to impound the vehicle but the Kalakuta men resisted. They then drove straight to Fela’s residence. Some soldiers trailed them to the gate of No 14A, Agege Motor Road, Moshalashi, in a bid to arrest Segun Ademola but Fela’s security men rebuffed all attempts by the alleged invaders to gain access. The evidence showed that within an hour the number of the invading soldiers increased to about 500, all of them carrying guns. The soldiers were said to have thrown stones, bottles and other misiles towards No 14A, Agege Motor Road. Fela and Beko were on the balcony of the house when suddenly an army corporal poured petrol on the generator located beside the fence of the building and another soldier struck the match. The soldiers advanced to the gate, cut the wire fence and moved into the compound of the house.
There was stampede as the soldiers threw out everybody except the first plaintiff, Mrs. Ransome-Kuti, who eventually sustained some wounds in the incident. The soldiers moved into the main house and set fire to it razing the property to the ground. According to the evidence on the records, there was looting, beating up of occupants of the house and several women were assaulted. Many of the inmates, including Fela and Beko, were later taken to the army barracks. A Consultant Surgeon in the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) ,Dr. Amaechi Obiora, who treated some of the patients said there were 52 patients, five of whom were admitted into the hospital and their injuries ranged from laceration, burns, head injuries, minor bruises and even breaking of bones. Both Fela and Beko were among those admitted into the hospital.
The arson and destruction of the building prompted the Ransome-Kuti family to initiate legal action at the High Court against the Attorney General of the Federation, the Chief of Nigerian Army, Army Headquarters’, and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence. Certain soldiers identified at the scene were also cited as the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth defendants. In the action, the Ransome-Kuti family claimed N25, 000,000.00 (Twenty five million naira) against the defendants jointly and severally being damages suffered by the plaintiffs when the agents of the military administration on Friday, February 18, 1977, wilfully and maliciously set fire to the family’s two-storey building and a bungalow on Agege Motor Road, Moshalashi. The family said that in the process, their personal effects, valuable properties, cash, professional and business equipment, including cars and buses, were totally destroyed by fire.
They also complained over the alleged assault and battery suffered during the attack. The plaintiffs later withdrew the action against the second and third defendants in the course of the proceedings. The plaintiffs’ claim was grounded in the vicarious liability of the FMG for the wrongful acts of its agents, the soldiers. The family’s lawyer, Tunji Braithwaite, who filed the action, represented Mrs Ransome-Kuti and her sons, not only at the High Court, the Court of Appeal but also at the Supreme Court. However, the Ransome-Kuti family lost at the High Court because the action was founded on tort and not fundamental rights. The High Court also held that the State (equating it with the King of England) had immunity at common law against being sued.
This brought about what Justice Kayode Eso in his lead judgment at the Supreme Court eventually called ‘’ that old and almost anachronistic legal phraseology that the King can do no wrong.’’ This decision of the High Court was upheld at the Appellate Court. Dissatisfied with the dismissal of their appeal, the family went to the Supreme Court on two grounds of appeal. The thrust of Braithwaite’s argument was that the distinction between the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution and ‘’tort’’ simplicter was inmaterial for the purpose of redressing the injury complained of. Besides, the counsel contended that under the 1963 constitution being operated at the time, there was no room for the common law doctrine of nonliability of the State for tort. But the then Attorney General of the Federation, the late Chief Chike Offodile, argued that the fundamental rights would not override the common law. In the lead judgment of the Supreme Court, Justice Eso, said that the cause of action of the Ransome-Kuti family was one of tort simpliciter, therefore they could only rely on the vicarious liability of the defendants. He declared that in the process, the appellants’ lawyer could seek in aid the provisions of chapter 111 of the Constitution for proof of the tortious action.
To the jurist, the lawyer could certainly not raise it as a separate cause of action. According to Eso, ‘’indeed, the entire record of proceedings was replete with statements by Mr. Braithwaite himself that the action brought by the plaintiffs was in tort and no more. It is too late for counsel to change gear at the top stream, his cause of action is well-defined in his writ and his statement of claim.’’ Notwithstanding this, the jurist declared that the immunity attaching to the state in this country ‘’is sad’.’’ For the learned judge who took evidence described the scene that day as ‘’hell was let loose’’. He noted. ‘’This is bad. It should not be right that once the actual perpetrators could not be determined, the State, whose soldiers these perpetrators are could not be made liable. But as I said the immunity of the State persisted at the time of the incident. ‘’ Justice Eso said if the identities of the vandals otherwise described as unknown soldiers,” clothed with state immunity had been known, the State would have found it difficult to excuse itself from liability. The apex court declared that the appeal must fail and it was accordingly dismissed. The Olusegun Obasanjo military administration revoked the family’s Certificate of Occupancy of the land, which is being occupied today by a public school named after the Ransome-Kuti family.
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