ECOWAS Court rejects claims by Leader of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) in suit against the Federal Republic of Nigeria

The ECOWAS Court of Justice on Wednesday, 11th December 2019 dismissed, for failure to prove the claims, a suit brought by the leader of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, alleging torture, assault, inhuman treatment and the violation of his property rights by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Delivering judgment in the suit, Honourable Justice Dupe Atoki who read the judgment of the Court also held that Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest and detention were not unlawful and arbitrary as claimed by the Plaintiff.

The three member panel of the Court also dismissed the request of Mr. Kanu for monetary compensation.

While the Court acknowledged that Mr. Kanu had the legal capacity to approach the Court for the alleged violation of his human rights, it adjudged that without a mandate, he lacked the legal personality to represent the IPOB before the Court.

On the issue of proper parties before the Court, the names of the second and third defendants (Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and Director General, State Security Service) who are not signatories to the ECOWAS Revised Treaty, were struck out of the suit as improper parties, leaving the 1st defendant, the Federal Republic of Nigeria as the sole defendant in the case.

In the initiating application of the suit no ECW/CCJ/APP/06/16 filed before the Court on 3rd March 2016 by his counsel, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, the plaintiff claimed that his rights to life, personal integrity, privacy, fair trial, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, personal liberty, freedom of association, private property, right to existence and right to self-determination were violated following his arrest and detention by agents of the defendant State.

The plaintiff also alleged that he was a victim of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture inhuman and degrading treatment while in detention and that his personal belongings were confiscated by the defendant through its agent.

Mr. Kanu, who is also the Director of Radio Biafra, registered under the regulatory laws of the United Kingdom and the United Nations, demanded monetary compensation in the sum of $800 million US dollar.

But Counsel to the government of Nigeria, Mr. Abdullahi Abubakar averred in defence that the country was obliged to enforce the rule of law as stipulated in its Constitution, Treaties and Protocol which included defending the sovereignty of an undivided Nigeria.

The counsel added that the activities of IPOB were secessionist in nature as it instigated a separationist agenda among the people of the country’s South-East and South-South using its Biafra Radio.

Mr. Abubakar further averred that the acts of the plaintiff were intended to garner support for war against the defendant and carve out a geo-political area to be declared “Republic of Biafra.” Consequently, he said the defendant initiated an investigation into the allegations against the plaintiff which led to his arrest and discovery of illegal firearms and radio transmitters in his possession, items that posed security risk to the country.

The defendant also submitted that the plaintiff was investigated while in detention for offences of criminal conspiracy, managing and belonging to an illegal society and that though granted bail whose conditions he could not meet, he was detained on fresh charges of treasonable felony instituted at the Federal High Court against the plaintiff.

Counsel to defendant avowed that although the plaintiff and some members of IPOB had severally threatened the peace of the nation with their demands, the defendant gave no orders to its agencies to kill members of IPOB nor did any such killings occur but that the defendant has remained committed to upholding the rule of law while recognizing and protecting the fundamental rights of its citizens and all groups including the IPOB.

The defendant therefore urged the Court to dismiss the case.

Also on the panel were Justices Edward Amoako Asante and Keikura Bangura.