ECOWAS Court dismisses suit by widow of retired officer and 33 others challenging their retirement by the Nigerian Army

ECOWAS Court has dismissed a suit filed by the widow of a retired officer of the Nigerian Army, Ruth Ochankpa and 33 other officers challenging as unlawful, the retirement of the late husband and the others by the Army four years ago.

A panel of three judges of the Court led by Justice Dupe Atoki on Friday, 10th July 2020 dismissed the suit and declared the ‘applicants’ allegations of human rights violations unproven.’

In the judgment read by the Judge Rapporteur for the case, Justice Januaria T.S. Moreira Costa, the Court said it came to the conclusion after considering the facts relied upon by the parties and examining all the documents they submitted.

The Court also dismissed all other pleadings, orders and other forms of order sought by the applicants.

The first plaintiff, Mrs. Ochankpa, the widow and next of kin to the late Lt. Col O.A Baba-Ochankpa and the 33 others who were retired from the Army on 9th June 2016 filed the suit against the Federal Republic of Nigeria challenging their compulsory retirement.

The plaintiffs alleged the violation of their human rights, namely, the right to a fair trial, the right to property, the right to free disposal of their wealth and natural resources and the right to free movement, all guaranteed by Articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The Applicants submitted that in the context of the disciplinary proceedings initiated against them which culminated the decision of the Council of the Armed Forces on their compulsory retirement, they were not heard by the Commission of Inquiry;

Moreover, they argued that the decision was applied without there being convicted by a competent court while they were refused the right of appeal to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

In response, the Defendant State claimed that the Applicants’ compulsory retirement followed the proper legal procedures in line with the Military Service.

It also contended that the Applicants’ right to appeal was not denied either, as they had the option to appeal to the President and Chief Commander of the Armed Forces, through the Chief of Defense Staff, within 30 days, to have their case reviewed, and that at no time did they demonstrate that they requested such a review.

The plaintiffs’ had asked for: a declaration by the Court that the punishment meted to them by way of compulsory retirement based on disciplinary grounds had no factual basis whatsoever and hence illegal and in breach of their human rights; the award to the Plaintiffs of compensatory damages in the sum of 10 Billion Naira each or as is just and reasonable to be determined at the hearing of the application.

Also on the panel was Hon. Justice Keikura Bangura