ECOWAS Court dismisses case filed by seven Nigerians alleging that a constitutional provision violated the country’s international obligations on elections

The ECOWAS Court of Justice on Wednesday, 1st July, 2020 dismissed a suit filed by seven Nigerians alleging that Section 221 of the country’s constitution which bars independent candidates from contesting for elective offices violated their right to participation in governance.

Delivering judgment in the suit filed by Obinna Umeh and six others, a panel of three judges of the Court led by its President, Justice Edward Amoako Asante said that the Court cannot compel the defendant in this case, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to amend its Constitution in abstract where there have not been any proven human rights violation.

While the Court dismissed the argument of the defendant’s counsel that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit and that it was status barred, it adjudged that it has competence to compel Member States to conform or meet their intentional obligations but does so where necessary by examining any impugned national laws with the view to ascertaining whether indeed any human rights violations occurred.’

The Court held that section 221 of the Defendant`s 1999 Constitution as amended, relied on by the Plaintiffs in their argument, is not an infringement as the plaintiffs have the right to participate freely in the government of their Country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions of the Law.

It also ordered both parties to bear their costs.

In suit no: ECW/CCJ/APP/48/18 the Applicants, Obinna Umeh, Kenneth Roberts, Goodluck Edafe, Dr. Matthew Oguche, Macauley S. William – Jumbo, Josephine E. Okeke (Mrs.) and Emmanuel Agada through their counsel, Barrister F.A Oguche approached the Court to challenge the electoral laws of the Defendant that proscribed independent candidacy by mandatorily requiring those seeking elective offices to do so on the platform of a registered political party.

They averred that the contested Constitutional provision amounts to the denial of their right to direct participation in the government of the defendant and a violation of Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples and Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights.

They added that it also an infringement of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is undemocratic and an infringement on internationally guaranteed human rights instruments.

In addition, they urged the Court to issue an order compelling the Defendant to pay the sum of N5 Million Naira, as exemplary damages for the wanton infringement of the fundamental rights of the Applicants and for the breach of the country’s international obligations to respect those rights.

However, Mr. T.D. Agbe Counsel to the Defendant argued that what the applicants are asking for asking for is a constitutional amendment that is vested in the people of Nigeria through national and state assemblies and beyond the scope of the power of the Court.

He therefore urged the Court to dismiss the suit for lack of merit, affirming that the Defendant`s democratic setting allows for multiple political parties and every qualified citizen is free in association with other citizens to register a political party and participate in any of the elective positions.

He said the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has allowed every qualified person to participate in governance through periodic elections, stressing that the Constitution is in line with the ideology enshrined in Article 13 of the African Charter of peoples and Human Rights.

Other judges on the panel include Justices Keikura Bangura and Januara Tavares Moreira Cost