ECOWAS Court finds Nigeria guilty of human rights violations

From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice held on Wednesday that the Federal Republic of Nigeria violated the human rights of Obianuju Catherine Udeh and two others.

The regional court specifically found Nigeria in breach of Articles 1, 4, 6, 9, 10, and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), pertaining to the right to life, security of person, freedom of expression, assembly and association, prohibition of torture, the duty of the state to investigate, and the right to effective remedy.

The Applicants, Obianuju Catherine Udeh, Perpetual Kamsi, and Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, alleged that these violations occurred during peaceful protests at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State on 20 and 21 October 2020.

Justice Koroma Mohamed Sengu, the Judge Rapporteur who delivered the judgment, said the Court dismissed the allegation that the right to life as guaranteed under Article 4 of the ACHPR was violated. However, he said the Respondent (Nigeria) must pay each Applicant ₦2 million as compensation for violations of their right to security, prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, duty to investigate human rights violations, and right to effective remedy.

Additionally, the Respondent must adhere to its obligations under the ACHPR, investigate and prosecute its agents responsible for these violations, and report to the Court within six months on the measures taken to implement the judgment.

The Applicants alleged that during peaceful protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian Police Force at Lekki Toll Gate, the Respondent committed several human rights violations. Triggered by the alleged killing of Daniel Chibuike, the protests aimed to address police harassment and brutality.

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Udeh claimed that soldiers shot protesters, resulting in deaths and injuries, which she live-streamed. She subsequently received threatening phone calls that forced her into hiding and eventual asylum. Kamsi, responsible for protesters’ welfare, described how soldiers began shooting after a power cut, leading to her hospitalisation due to police tear gas. Adeyinka recounted narrowly escaping being shot, observing soldiers refusing ambulance entry, and later witnessing inadequate hospital care for victims.

Adeyinka argued that she and her colleagues took over the victims’ care and that she faced ongoing threats and surveillance, believed to be from the Respondent’s agents. The Applicants sought declaratory reliefs and compensation from the Court for these violations.

The Respondent denied all claims, asserting that the protesters assembled unlawfully at Lekki Toll Gate on 20 October 2020, under the guise of protesting against SARS. Nigeria maintained that its agents followed strict rules of engagement and did not shoot or kill protesters. It argued that Udeh incited the crowd by playing music and using her Instagram page to stir disaffection against law enforcement, who were targeting escaped members of Boko Haram and bandits.

The Respondent contended that Kamsi’s provision of logistics and welfare support indicated her support for a violent protest. It claimed that soldiers were present to restore peace until the police arrived, denying any harm inflicted on protesters or the refusal of ambulance access.

Nigeria also denied that Adeyinka’s presence was peaceful, asserting that she intended to escalate violence. It argued that the Lagos State government managed the treatment and care of the injured and submitted that the Applicants had not provided credible evidence to support their claims or the reliefs sought.

In its judgment, the Court found no violation of the right to life as the Applicants filed their claims *in vitam* (while still alive). However, the Court held that the Respondent breached several articles of the ACHPR, resulting in fundamental human rights violations. The Court declared that the Applicants were denied the right to an effective remedy and ordered Nigeria to pay reparations for violating their fundamental human rights.

Honourable Justices Dupe Atoki (presiding) and Ricardo Claúdio Monteiro Gonçalves were also on the three-member panel.

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