Judgment scheduled for 30th April in suit filed by Aircarftwoman alleging sexual assault and rape by Superior Officer

A panel of three Justices of ECOWAS Court led by Hon. Justice Edward Amoako Asante on 9th March, 2021 fixed 30th April 2021 for judgment in a suit filed by an aircraftwoman, alleging the violation of her fundamental human rights to physical and mental health, through sexual assault and rape by her superior officer, one Flight Lieutenant B. S. Vibelko of the Nigerian Air Force.

Ruling on the two grounds of the Preliminary Objections raised by the Respondent, the Judge Rapporteur, Justice Dope Atoki, on behalf of the panel, dismissed the preliminary objections that the Federal Republic of Nigeria cannot be held liable for acts and omissions of its agents on the ground of strict liability for the action of its agents.

The Respondent’s Counsel Barrister, Oladipo B. J. has also in his preliminary objections averred that the whole gamut of the action is premised on criminality for which the Court has no jurisdiction.

He further argued that throughout the Applicant`s submissions, there was no evidence linking the Respondent to the violation and, that the matter is statute barred, having been brought to the Court three years after the cause of action arose.

The Court however, ruled that in the given circumstances, the matter cannot be statute barred as posited by the Respondent and fixed 30th April 2021 for judgment on the merit of the matter.

On Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, the Court granted the request of the Applicant, Aircraftwoman Beauty Igbobie Uzezi, to personally lead evidence and was heard, during which she alleged that the assault and rape as well as the subsequent handling of her complaint by officials of the force violated her rights to liberty, work, freedom of movement and fair hearing following her unlawful detention and verbal dismissal in 2015.

In suit ECW/CCJ/APP/32/19 the Applicant represented by her Counsel, Marshal Abubakar Esq. averred that she was enlisted into the Nigerian Air force in August 15, 2010 with Service No NAF10/25157F and stationed at Nigerian Air force, Directorate of Air, Ikeja, Lagos State. She added that she put in over 5 years of active and meritorious service before the persistent victimization culminating into her purported dismissal.

The Applicant averred that prior to her purported dismissal, she served in various military formations including the Nigerian Air force Base, Kaduna, the Base Services Wing, Abuja and lastly the Air Service Wing, Ikeja, Lagos on military assignment.

That on May 17, 2011 she was sexually assaulted, brutally raped and de-flowered by her superior officer, Flt Lt Vibelko resulting in her being admitted at the accident and emergency ward in 345 Aeromedical Hospital Kaduna. That as a result, her health suffered greatly, physically and in status and she contracted severe sexually transmitted infections which resulted into chronic pelvic inflammatory disease resulting in a solid mass growth close to her uterus.

The Applicant further averred that her male superiors in the Nigeria Air force rather than investigate and mete out appropriate sanctions, subjected her to unprecedented intimidation, victimization and threat to her life.

This included being regularly locked up in the guardroom for no reason, being placed on constant punishment duties, being constantly accused and put through various degrees of punishment and imprisonment with hard labour and often dragged through the ground and beaten to coma while nude resulting in bruises all over her body.

The Applicant claimed that she also received several death threats from several officers of the Nigerian Air force, for daring to report an officer who raped her. Also, that regimental entry was made into her file stating that she should never be promoted with her colleagues, this continued until her unlawful dismissal which was dutifully carried out.

The Applicant averred that she was orally dismissed from the Nigerian Air force and unlawfully evicted from her official residence Flat 445 Nigerian Air force, Ikeja, Lagos, without adherence to the statutory provisions in the Armed Forces Act

The Applicant is therefore seeking for a declaration by the Court, that her purported dismissal from the Air force by the Respondent without arraignment, prosecution and sentence by a duly constituted Court Martial is irregular, illegal, unlawful, null and void, and that the act of the Respondent herein constitute a violation of the Applicant’s Fundamental Rights to fair hearing as stated in the provisions of SECTION 36 (1), (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic

She is also asking for an order compelling the Respondent, its agents, organs, servants, privies to pay over to the Applicant the sum of $20, 000,000.00 (Twenty Million Dollars) only as aggravated and punitive damages that will serve as a deterrent to the Respondent and payment of the sum of $500, 000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Dollars) only being the solicitors fees and other incidental cost.

She is also asking for an order of the Court directing the Respondent, its agents, organs, servants, and privies or by whatsoever name called to convert the purported dismissal of the Applicant to retirement at the rank her contemporaries in the Nigeria Air force occupy as at the time of enforcement of the Judgement.

Justice Januaria Costa is also on the panel.