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Doe v. Buratai

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 19, 2018

DOE 1, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TUKUR YUSUF BURATAI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DABNEY L. FRIEDRICH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiffs in this case are Nigerian nationals who allege that the defendants-officials in the Nigerian government, military, and police-brutally tortured and killed peaceful protesters. Before the Court are the defendants' Motions to Dismiss. Dkt. 35; Dkt. 36. Because the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendants and lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the action, the Court must grant the motions and dismiss this action.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This suit arises from a long-running intra-Nigerian conflict between the Nigerian government and Biafrans, who are people of predominantly Igbo ethnicity and Christian religion who have sought secession from Nigeria for decades. See Compl. ¶¶ 44-47, Dkt. 1. Biafra declared independence in 1967, resulting in the Nigerian Civil War, but Biafra was reintegrated into Nigeria in 1970. See Dkt. 39-1 at 6, 11. The independence movement persisted, however, as did clamp-down efforts by the Nigerian government and its military, which is dominated by Nigerians of Hausa-Fulani ethnicity and Muslim religion. See Compl. ¶¶ 45-46.

         On January 18, 2016, a pro-Biafran organization, the Indigenous People of Biafra, held a protest at the National High School in Aba, Abia State, Nigeria. Id. ¶¶ 22, 179. Nigerian military and police forces allegedly “fired into the private observation and peaceful protest.” Id. ¶ 179. On February 9, 2016, the Indigenous People of Biafra organized another gathering at the National High School. Id. ¶¶ 57-58. When the participants gathered for morning prayers, Nigerian military and police forces allegedly “stormed the high school campus, scaled the fences, and began to indiscriminately shoot the assemblage.” Id. ¶¶ 56-60. According to the complaint, more than thirty members of the Indigenous People of Biafra were fatally or critically wounded; many more were arrested and tortured. Id. ¶ 60.

         On May 29, 2016, hundreds of pro-Biafran Igbo Nigerians travelled to Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. Id. ¶ 51. They planned to participate the next day in Biafran Patriots Day events, planned by the Indigenous People of Biafra to commemorate Biafra's 1967 declaration of independence. See Id. ¶ 49. That night, Nigerian military and police forces allegedly attacked Igbo Nigerians sleeping in St. Edmund's Catholic Church. Id. ¶ 51-52. Using tear gas and live ammunition, the attackers “kill[ed] and injur[ed] many as they slept.” Id. On May 30, the military and police forces allegedly “returned to slaughter more ethnic Igbos.” Id. ¶ 53.

         The ten plaintiffs sued on the following Biafran Patriots Day-May 30, 2017, id. at 53, and the Court permitted them to proceed anonymously to avoid retaliation, see Dkt. 4. The plaintiffs are Nigerian nationals. See Compl. ¶ 1. Four plaintiffs (John Does 6 through 9) are legal representatives of alleged victims of extrajudicial killings caused by the attacks in Abia State on January 18 and February 9, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 142-86. Five plaintiffs (John Does 1 through 5) are legal representatives of alleged victims of extrajudicial killings caused by the attacks in Anambra State on May 29-30, 2016, id. ¶¶ 79-141, and one plaintiff (John Doe 10) was allegedly tortured himself after being detained during those attacks, id. ¶¶ 187-99. The plaintiffs assert claims under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, and the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991, which provides a civil cause of action to victims of torture and extrajudicial killings:

         Sec. 2. Establishment of Civil Action.

(a) Liability.-An individual who, under actual or apparent authority, or color of law, of any foreign nation-
(1) subjects an individual to torture shall, in a civil action, be liable for damages to that individual; or
(2) subjects an individual to extrajudicial killing shall, in a civil action, be liable for damages to the individual's legal representative, or to any person who may be a claimant in an action for wrongful death.

Pub. L. No. 102-256, § 2(a), 106 Stat 73, 73 (Mar. 12, 1992) (codified as a note to 28 U.S.C. § 1350).[1]

         As defendants, the complaint names sixteen members of the Nigerian government, military, and police who allegedly “conspired and agreed that killings of Biafran civilians were necessary to quash political opposition . . . and to terrorize the population.” Compl. ¶ 63. Accordingly, they planned, directed, and executed the attacks against Igbo Nigerians; the Nigerian military and police forces who perpetrated the torture and extrajudicial killings “act[ed] under the command of, in conspiracy with, and/or as the agent of one or more of the Defendants.” Id. ¶ 65. In particular, the defendants are:

• Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai - Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army, Compl. ¶¶ 12-13;
• Lawal Musa Daura - Director General of the Nigerian State Security Service, id. ¶¶ 14-15;
• Major General Ibrahim Attahiru - Commander of the 82nd Division of the Nigerian Army, id. ¶¶ 16-18;
• Major M.I. Ibrahim - Commander of the Nigerian Military Police in Onitsha and Abia State, Nigeria, id. ¶¶ 19-21;[2]
• Lieutenant Colonel Kasim Umar Sidi - Commander of the 144th Battalion of the Nigerian Army, id. ¶¶ 22-24;
• Colonel Issah Maigari Abdullahi - Commander of the 302 Artillery Regime of the Nigerian Army and the Onitsha Military Cantonment in Anambra State, Nigeria, id. ¶¶ 25-30;
• Solomon Arase - Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force (until his retirement on June 21, 2016), id. ¶¶ 31-32;
• Ibrahim Kpotun Idris - current Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force (Arase's successor), id. ¶¶ 33-34;
• Okezie Victor Ikpeazu - Governor of Abia State, Nigeria, id. ¶ 35;
• Willie Obiano - Governor of Anambra State, Nigeria, id. ¶ 36;
• Habila Hosea - Commissioner of the Nigerian Police Command for Abia State, Nigeria during the alleged attacks (now the Deputy Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force), id. ¶ 37;[3]
• Peter Nwagbara - Assistant Commissioner of the Nigerian Police Command for Abia State, Nigeria, id. ¶ 38;
• James Oshim Nwafor - Chief Superintendent of Police and Officer-in-Charge of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian Police Command for Anambra State, Nigeria, id. ¶ 39;
• Hassan Karma - Commissioner of the Nigerian Police Command for Anambra State, Nigeria, id. ¶ 40;
• Bassey Abang - Chief Superintendent of Police and Officer-in-Charge of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad for Anambra State, Nigeria, id. ¶ 41;
• Johnson Babatunde Kokomo - Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of operations in Anambra State, Nigeria, id. ¶ 42.

         In approximately August 2017, the Nigerian government-acting through its embassy in the United States-transmitted a diplomatic note to the U.S. Department of State requesting a suggestion of immunity for the defendants. See Manu Decl. ¶¶ 3-5, Dkt. 36-2; see also Dkt. 41-1 at 7-10. According to the request, “the Nigerian Government categorically disputes the Plaintiffs' claims and their characterization of the facts and further denies that the Defendants committed any wrongdoing or violated Nigerian, United States, or international law, ” and the defendants “are current or former government ...


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