Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha
The ECOWAS Court has asked the Nigerian government and the Imo state government to pay N100.09 million as special damages to a family whose property was demolished four years ago in Imo State.
The property was demolished under a 2009 Imo state law. The law allowed the government to pull down any property linked to anyone accused to be involved in kidnapping activities in the state.
It was adopted as part measures to curb the menace of kidnapping in the state.
In suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/13/14, Damian Onwuham and 22 others 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.
They also accused the Imo state government of failing to carry out an impartial and effective investigation on the owners of the properties.
They described the continuous detention of the suspects as unlawful, as none of the applicants nor the suspected kidnapper has so far been charged to court.
They demanded N50 million as general damages; N100.09 million as special damages for the reconstruction and furnishing of the demolished buildings, and exemplary damages N500 million.
The federal government is the first defendant in the case while the Imo government is second defendant.
But, the court in its judgment delivered on Tuesday said the April 12, 2014 demolition of the property was not only illegal, but also unlawful.
Also, the court described the allegation of Mr Onwuham’s involvement in kidnapping as unsubstantiated, while the demolition of the property on account of an allegation of the offence of kidnapping without trial was a violation of Articles 7 and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Details of the award were contained in a statement from the court sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday.
The statement said the award represented the total cost of the buildings and other household items destroyed by agents of the Imo State government during the demolition exercise.
They include one unit of bungalow of 15 bedrooms and two sitting rooms, along with another bungalow of seven bedrooms and a sitting room and a third bungalow of six bedrooms and a sitting room.
The Court also awarded additional N20 million to the family as general damages for the violation of the Mr Onwuham’s fundamental rights to fair hearing, human dignity and right to property, although the family’s claims for exemplary damages were rejected.
A three-member panel of the court presided by Justice Friday Nwoke also directed the government to investigate the circumstances that surrounded the disappearance of Mr Onwuham’s son, Obinna.
The other members of the panel included Justices Yaya Boiro and Alioune Sall.
Where an offence was found to have been committed by those behind Obinna’s disappearance, the court asked for the prosecution of the culprits.
Obinna, the alleged kidnapper, was allegedly handcuffed and taken away from the family home on December 19, 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.
Although the court acknowledged the ‘devastating effect’ of kidnapping on the economy and safety of citizens of any state confronted with the menace, which justifies the ‘drastic measures,’ it held that such ‘measures have to be within the confines of the law.
This, the court noted, would have regard to what is fair and just and in the circumstance avoid acts that tend to violate the right of others.
“It appears 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,” the panel said
“Such a law is punitive, obnoxious and indeed an exhibition of the highest point of impunity. If allowed under any guise, then all of us are endangered species,” the panel added.
The panel also criticised the demolition of the property 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 Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution.
In its defence, the federal government denied knowledge of the alleged actions and attached a document signifying that the security initiative – “Operation Rescue Imo” was an initiative of the Imo State government.