STEPHEN UBIMAGO writes that the constant harassment of Igbo traders in Lagos can only be brought to an end if the traders could gather solid evidence and drag their traducers before a competent court for closure…. A Lagos-based legal practitioner, Mr. Leon Mbakwe, has stated that recent developments – which saw the shops of Igbo traders being summarily shut at the behest of hoodlums sympathetic to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in places like Oshodi and Lagos Island – constitute clear violation of the traders’ rights. He maintained that the development is one which could be weaponized by the traders to institute legal action for which hefty damages could be exacted. It would be recalled that on Tuesday February 26 hundred of social miscreants, also known as ‘Area Boys’, reportedly attacked Igbo traders on Lagos Island for not voting for President Muhammadu Buhari in the Saturday, February 23 presidential election. The miscreants, who were armed with dangerous weapons like cutlasses, broken bottles, wood and knives struck at about at Oluwole, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tinubu, Bamgbose and Alli Streets. Some Igbo traders who were just opening their shops for business were beaten with the instruction that all their shops should remain locked. The armed hoodlums were seen parading the streets, shouting, “Igbo should go back to their states to do business. This is Lagos. “We campaign for them to vote for Buhari, but they refused and voted for Atiku. They cannot come here to do business again. They must follow us to vote whoever we ask them to vote for. “This is just a sample for them, if they ever vote for PDP again, that will be their end,” the hoodlums were heard threatening.” Also on February 25, pandemonium allegedly broke out in the Oshodi area of Lagos, as shops belonging to Igbo traders were reportedly forced shut by hoodlums. It was gathered that the hoodlums beat up some of the traders for allegedly voting for PDP during the presidential and National Assembly elections that held on Saturday. The assailants are said to have invaded the market around 5am and destroyed some shops before the traders arrived to set up their wares. They reportedly returned around 7am to beat up some of the traders, who were assessing the damage done to their shops. One of the traders, who identified himself simply as Emeka, and whose shop was destroyed, said, “I arrived for the day’s business only to see my shed already destroyed. “When I asked those who arrived before me, I was told that some people came armed with weapons to destroy our places of business. I also learnt that they beat up some traders when they came the second time.” Reacting to the development in an exclusive chat with Daily Independent, Barrister Mbakwe said the attack on the traders raised serious legal issues. He said, “There are serious legal issues disclosed in these narratives; very serious infraction of the rights of the affected Igbo traders. “Legal action will give the traders opportunity to teach the masterminds of these attacks or anybody backing these hoodlums’ serious lessons of their lives. “And this will serve to sufficiently attract the attention of the world to the plight of the Igbo in Lagos. “These events disclose such legal issues as trespass. It is totally unlawful; it is actionable and damages are recoverable. “And getting damages in this matter is a very simple thing. It is just a matter of computation of the losses that the traders have suffered as a result of the wanton attacks on their persons and wares. “Whoever ordered the attack on Ndigbo, I ask from where did he or she derive the authority? “If you sue and you don’t get justice in a Lagos Court, you proceed to the Court of Appeal. It the matter gets to the Supreme Court, fine. That is when the matter will get nailed finally. “With the damages that will be awarded them, the Igbos will even be able to get sufficient money to build another market somewhere else.” He maintained that if legal action is not taken to find closure for the Igbos in the ongoing harassment, the trend will continue into the far future. Hence, people need to be educated on their rights, since it is only a right one is aware of that one can appropriate and fight for. He said, “It is high time people generally, not just Ndigbo in Lagos, are made aware of their rights, as it does appear that the reason why people could commit blue murder and get away with it is because the victims of trampled rights are ignorant of their rights under Nigerian law, how much less will they seek to fight for a right they know nothing of?” He insists however that the traders are sufficiently aware of their rights in that through their various associations they have lawyers through whom they could push for the enforcement of their rights. According to him, “Talking about lawyers and enlightenment, you don’t need to go to the market and start talking about enlightenment. “All of the Market Associations have lawyers. What I think is that this is the time to test whether the lawyers just go to the traders to collect their money. “If the traders don’t know how to go about enforcing their rights, then let them change their lawyers. “This is something somebody who is coming out of law school can handle. They should just get their acts together and file their matter in court. “It does not require sophistication in law practice. The traders should let their lawyers know what happened and the losses they suffered as a result of the closure or attack on their shops. “This incident where the shops of Igbo traders were forcefully shut has happened for the umpteenth time and no legal action has been taken out against the perpetrators of this reprehensible act. “For me, it is causes like this that Ohaneze Ndigbo should take up. They should liaise with critical stakeholders, including lawyers and institute a legal action.” Could the development give rise to a class action in which the affected traders could bring a single action as a group? Mbakwe answers, “It is only when you want to get your right enforced that you can mobilize people who are interested. Of course class action is an area that is highly underutilized in Nigeria and it is an area I have interest in seriously. “Because most of the people that suffer such victimization do not have what it takes to fight for their rights in terms of enlightenment, education, information, resources, courage and confidence, that is why people ride rough shod over them. “But there are people who will suffer this and will not hesitate to get lawyers to fight for them.” Nigerians are however of the habit of sleeping over their rights. Mbakwe explains that “The problem is that Nigerians are not really willing to enforce their rights. Nigerians are always in a hurry. “They don’t have the patience. They don’t even have the courage to approach people who can assist them to fight for their rights. I think that is the basic thing. “If you walk to me and talk about this we can do a letter to the appropriate quarters and if nothing happens then we will go to the public complaints commission, the ombudsman of the government. “From there you then go to court and sue. The problem has always been having evidence which you can use against them.” He stressed further that the tendency on the part of Nigerians to sleep over their rights is amply noticeable in their dealings with government institutions or agencies, which many feel little courage to bring action against when those institutions trample on their rights. For example, people who use the train services provided by the Nigerian Railway Corporation have complained often times about how the train will suddenly stop midway into the journey and the passengers will be left with no communication. This has often resulted in passengers either getting stranded; while some from frustration will disembark and use other modes to get to their destination with no refund of their money. So many believe that since NRC is a government parastatal, they may not be able to successfully pursue a suit against them? “That is not true,” he responds. “You surely can bring a suit against a government agency, unlike NEPA of those days. All you need to do is write them. As a lawyer, you study them, study the Act establishing the institution. “And if they need pre-action notice you write them; and at the end of the day you take your action. “You could go through garnishee proceeding against them, following which you know where their accounts are, and you attach them. “Thenceforth nobody can access the account except you are settled. “So it is only a few government parastatals that are immune to litigation. “But the enforcement of judgment against them may be a little difficult, because you will also need other agencies of government to enforce the judgment. “Like I have said, if you have to go through the courts, you may explore garnishee proceeding, in which you trace where their money is going, then stop them from gaining access to the money until they settle you.”]]>

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