ECOWAS Court fixes 1st April to hear suit alleging the mismanagement of Ebola funds by government of Sierra Leone

The ECOWAS Court of Justice has granted the plaintiffs in a suit alleging the mismanagement of $14 million Ebola funds against the Republic of Sierra Leone, leave to call four witnesses but rejected a request for the Court to move to Sierra Leone, the locus, in order to hear witnesses who cannot afford the trip to the Abuja site of the Court.

Delivering the ruling on Thursday, 7th February 2020, the presiding Judge, Justice Edward Amoako Asante also fixed 1st April 2020 for the continuation of hearing of the suit following the failure of the parties to reach an amicable settlement.

Mr. Oludayo Fagbemi, counsel to the plaintiffs, had reported to the Court the failure of the settlement between the parties and the preparedness of the plaintiffs to continue the action before the Court.

The Court had on 26th February 2019 and at the request of the parties, granted them leave to conclude their out of Court settlement within three months. On that date, it also dismissed an application by another NGO, the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors, requesting to be joined as the fourth plaintiff in the suit.

In arguing for the visit to locus, Mr. Fagbemi had said that the matter is of public interest and the financial burden of fielding witnesses from Sierra Leone to the Seat of the Court in Abuja, Nigeria is enormous.

But the request was opposed by Counsel to the government, Mr Osman Kanu, who submitted that it was sufficient for counsel to represent their clients in Court.

During Thursday’s hearing, Justice Asante had in rejecting the application, agreed with the Counsel to the government, Mr Kanu, that the application by the Association to be joined as a plaintiff in the suit was settled at the hearing of 26th February 2019 where it was established that it was not registered and therefore did not have the legal personality to approach the Court.

Counsel to the Association, Mrs Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff, had argued that it was now duly registered and therefore had the legal personality to approach the Court. She therefore urged the Court to allow it to be joined as fourth plaintiff in the case, particularly since the Rules of the Court posed no objection to an unchallenged interest from being heard by the Court.

The latest ruling leaves the Association with the option to file a fresh suit.

In suit no. ECW/CCJ/APP/07/18, the Center for Accountability & Rule of Law, Hawa Jalloh, and Fatima Sessay, also urged the Court to hold the government of Sierra Leone liable for the violation of the right to life and health of the two persons and others who were infected or died from the Ebola epidemic, for the mismanagement of the Ebola funds and for failing to dedicate maximum available resources to the Ebola response.

According to the documents filed by the plaintiffs, some 14, 000 Sierra Leoneans contracted the disease over two years, half of those infected in West Africa, of which 4,000 died.

In the initiating application filed on 23rd of January 2018, the plaintiffs also alleged that the defendant failed to carry out a timely and effective investigation of mismanaged funds amounting to 14 Million USD for curtailing the Ebola epidemic.

They urged the Court to hold the government of Sierra Leone liable for these violations and award general and specific damages to the 2nd and 3rd plaintiffs – Hawa Jalloh and Fatimata Sessay and other similarly affected persons.

Also on the panel were Justices Gberi-Be Ouattara and Dupe Atoki