The Community Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ordered the Nigerian government to pay two families over N150million for rights violation. The court gave the directive in two judgements it delivered on Wednesday in two suits filed by the two Nigerian families, whose members suffered rights violation in the hands of security agents. The first judgment was in a suit marked: ECW/CCJ/APP/13/14 was filed by Chief Damian Onwuham and 22 other members of a family, whose property was demolished four years ago under a 2009 law enacted by Imo State, that allows for the demolition of the homes of kidnappers as part measures to curb the menace of kidnapping in the state. The plaintiffs had alleged the violations of their rights to fair hearing and effective investigation; right to presumption of innocence; right to property and right to dignity of the human person as guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. A three-man panel of the court led by Justice Friday Chijioke Nwoke, ordered the Nigerian government to pay N100,089,140 as special damages to the family. The award, the court said, represents the total cost of the buildings and other household items destroyed by agents of the Imo State government, namely, one unit of bungalow of 15 bedrooms and two sitting rooms, another bungalow of seven bedrooms and a sitting room and a third bungalow of six bedrooms and a sitting room. the Court held that the 12th April 2014 demolitions on ‘account of an unsubstantiated allegation of the offence of kidnapping without trial is illegal, unlawful and violated’ Articles 7 and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Court also awarded another N20m to the family as general damages for the violation of the Applicants’ fundamental rights to fair hearing, human dignity and right to property but rejected the family’s claims for exemplary damages. The court directed the government to ‘investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Chief Onwuham’s son, Obinna Kasarachi , with a view to determining his whereabouts, and where an offence is found to have been committed, prosecute the culprits.’ Obinna, the alleged kidnapper, was allegedly handcuffed and taken from the family home on 19th December 2012 by members of Operation Rescue Imo, a state security outfit comprising of policemen, soldiers, members of the State Security Service and the Civil Defence Corps. While the court acknowledged the ‘devastating effect’ of kidnapping on the economy and safety of citizens of any state confronted with the menace which justifies ‘drastic measures,’ it held that such ‘measures have to be within the confines of the law, having regard to what is fair and just and in the circumstance avoid acts that tend to violate the right of others.’ Justice Nwoke said: “It appears that the anti-kidnapping law of the defendant, if it exits, prescribes punishment without recourse to trial by an independent tribunal,’ which is inconsistent with international best practices that provides for trial by a court or tribunal for any offence created by law as well as against ‘all known human rights norms for punishment to be imposed on a suspect without the necessity of a trial.” He described, relied on by Imo State Government, as “punitive, obnoxious and indeed an exhibition of the highest point of impunity,” which if “allowed under any guise then all of us are endangered species.’ It also criticised the demolition based on the State anti-kidnapping law as a form of collective punishment that is neither consistent with international law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights nor the country’s 1999 Constitution.” The second judgment was on a suit marked: ECW/CCJ/APP/29/15 filed by members of the family of a Nigerian politician, Ikyasa Chia, who was abducted and later killed three years ago by some policemen. The plaintiffs comprising the four wives and children of the late politician had asked for 500 million naira in compensation for the “physical assault and gruesome murder,” of Chia, who was allegedly abducted by officers of the Police led by one Inspector Benjamin Yankyaa. The court, in its judgment, ordered the Nigerian government to pay N50mn compensation to the family of the deceased politician. It said the compensation is for the ‘arbitrary, unlawful and illegal’ killing of the family’s breadwinner on 14th August 2015 by the police near Makurdi, the capital of the country’s Benue State. The court characterized the killing as a gross violation of the deceased’s right to life and respect for the dignity of his person as enshrined in Article 4 and 5 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The court said the failure of the defendant to investigate and prosecute persons connected with the said unlawful killing of the late Chia is a violation of the rights of the Applicants as well as abdication of the Defendant`s obligation under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. It said: “A state has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations and use the means at its disposal to carry out serious investigations of violations committed within its jurisdiction to identify those responsible, impose appropriate punishment and ensure the victim’s adequate compensation.” The court noted that, while the defendant attached a statement by the officer that led the team in the arrest as well as the investigating officer, it failed to attach a “comprehensive report prepared by an independent officer, stating the circumstances that led to the death of Ikyase Chia. It also noted that “no evidence was led to show that interviews and interrogations were carried out on all the officers who took part in the operation.’’ The court held that in the “case of lethal force by state agents, as in the present case, a prompt investigation is critical to ascertain whether the officers intentionally shot the deceased or it was ‘absolutely necessary’ to have shot him while trying to escape a lawful arrest.”]]>

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