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Mary Sunday: ECOWAS court okays suit against Nigerian government

By Caleb Ayansina

ABUJA-  The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has granted an application seeking to file a suit against the Federal Republic of Nigeria over its refusal to effectively investigate act of domestic violence allegedly committed by its citizens.

The Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) had filed an action against the Federal Government of Nigeria on behalf of Miss Mary Sunday for violation of her rights to a remedy, dignity and freedom from torture and other inhuman and degrading treatments among others.

The plaintiffs asked the court among other things to determine if the refusal of the Nigerian authorities to carry out an effective investigation or prosecution, makes the Nigerian State responsible for the violation in international law under the human rights treaties to which is a State party to or not.

But the Federal Government represented by the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Taiwo Abiodun argued that the government could not be sued on account of any unofficial act allegedly committed by its citizens, therefore, the plaintiff lack ‘locus standi’ to institute the case.

Mary Sunday

Provisions of the Protocol

Abiodun, in a Notice of Preliminary objection filed by H. N. Ekeng in pursuant to Article 87 and 88 of the court rules, submitted also that the court lacks the jurisdiction to hear the Plaintiffs application, seeking an order dismissing the application of the plaintiffs for want of jurisdiction.”

Responding, the plaintiffs argued that the submission by the Federal government of Nigeria that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the matter is a clear departure from provisions of the Protocol creating the court.

“By the virtue of Article 9 of the Protocol creating the court, as amended by article 3 of supplementary Protocol A/SP.10/01/05, the court has the jurisdiction to determine cases of violation of human rights that occur in any Member State.  This case concerns the violation of Mary Sunday’s human rights by the Federal republic of Nigeria, which is an ECOWAS Member State.”

The lead counsel to the Plaintiffs, Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, explained further that “the suit does not bother on act of domestic violence but on the refusal of the authorities of the respondent state to carry out an effective investigation into an act that violates the right of an individual, and to punish the perpetrator of that act.”

She explained that; “Mary Sunday was engaged to a policeman, Corporal Isaac Gbanwuan in Lagos. They had an argument in August 2012 which degenerated into a situation where he started beating her.

Neighbour’s kitchen

“In a bid to escape the beatings, she ran into a neighbour’s kitchen. Isaac was able to force his way into the kitchen and poured a burning stove with a cooking pot of stew on it on Mary Sunday’s head and body, setting her on fire.

“The Nigerian Police has refused to conduct an effective investigation into the incident and has not prosecuted the perpetrator.”

According to her, “the Nigerian authorities failed to effectively investigate this act of domestic violence, and prosecute the offender. This has made Mary Sunday to suffer an act of a vio1aton without a remedy provided by the State.

“The refusal of the Nigerian authorities to carry out an effective investigation or prosecution, makes the Nigerian State responsible for the violation in international law under the human rights treaties to which is a State party to particularly the African Charter on Human and Peoples’Rights; the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa; the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention against Torture, among others.

“It is clear in international human rights law that a State would be responsible for the acts of a private or non-state actor that violates human rights, where the State fails to act with due diligence to prevent the violation, or to carry out an effective investigation and prosecution of the violation.”

Delivering the verdict, yesterday, in Abuja, Justice Wilkins Wright not only denied the objection raised by the Federal Government but also granted all the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs, saying the case is admissible.

Locus standito sue

“Hence the case is admissible, accordingly the defendant motion for preliminary objection hereby denied. The case sustained to be heard on merit. As to locus standi, the plaintiffs have locus standi to sue.

“As for jurisdiction, the court has jurisdiction to hear and entertain the suit once its human right jurisdiction has been invoked.

“Therefore, for the sustenance of the defence, we have determined that this requires the trial to take evidence from the party involved in their respective pleading, to determine as to whether or not the conduct of the Federal Republic of Nigeria amount to the violation this international treaty obligation, and hence the violation of plaintiff’s fundamental right.”

 

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