COURT AWARDS 20 MILLION IN LUMP SUM PAYMENT TO THE FAMILY OF MAN WHO DIED IN CUSTODY OF NIGERIAN SECURITY AGENCY 

The ECOWAS Court of Justice has in its ongoing external session in Accra ordered the payment of a lump sum of 20 million to the family of a man who died on 9th June 2016 while in custody of the Department of State Services (DSS), a security agency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

Delivering judgment in a suit filed by the two relations, Ms. Rose Breivigel and Ms. Elizabeth Baumerich, the Court presided over by Justice Edward Amoako Asante said that the payment is compensation for the violation of the right to life of the late Desmond Nunugwo under Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

The Court said it deemed the compensation appropriate in the exercise of its discretion in awarding appropriate compensation, one of the reliefs sought by the applicants, taking into consideration some factors, “particularly the financial obligations towards the four year child in school, the surviving spouse and the external family from which two members gallantly fought this matter before this Court.” 

The Court also held that the Respondent violated its duty to investigate the circumstance of  the death under Article 4 of the same Charter. 

“This failure to carry out an effective investigation into the death of Mr. Desmond Nunugwo is in breach of Articles 1 and 4 of the African Charter, which when read together, require a prompt, proper and adequate official investigation into deaths resulting from the actions of State agents,’ it noted. 

In this regard, the Court said it has difficulty in discerning the reason why the State protracted investigation into the death of the Applicants’ brother even when its officials had exclusive knowledge of the facts surrounding his death.  

“In this wise, the Court notes that the totality of lack of due diligence which looks like a deliberate delay, depicts the involvement of the State officials in this case (as) the prolonged delay casts a doubt in the mind of the Court as to whether the deceased died of malignant hypertension and severe hypertension cardiovascular disease or the acts of the State officials during interrogation exacerbated his hypertension thereby leading to his death. 

However, the Court dismissed other allegations against the respondent relating to the violation of the deceased right to freedom from torture under Article 5 of the Charter and the presumption of innocence under Article 7 of the same Charter. 

According to the Applicants, on 9 June 2016, the deceased Mr. Desmond Nunugwo went to the law office of his attorney to seek legal advice in a private matter, during which operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) entered the law office, arrested and detained him in their premises in Abuja and after about six hours, the deceased was taken to an undisclosed hospital where he was declared dead. 

The Applicants averred that after the death of Mr. Nunugwo, the EFCC issued a press release alleging that the deceased fraudulently obtained Ninety One million Naira from an acquaintance under false pretense that he could invest the funds in a profitable way in Dubai.  In the press release, the deceased was alleged to have confessed receiving the money from which he transferred the sum of Thirty million Naira into an account in Norway. 

 Furthermore, the Applicants contended that the family of the deceased notified all the relevant State institutions about the mystery surrounding the death of their deceased member and the need to unravel the mystery by resort to comprehensive investigations including a post mortem. 

The Respondent denied the Applicants’ narration of facts and stated that the late Mr. Nunugwo was taken into custody by the EFCC for the purpose of investigation and interrogation based on a criminal petition filed by one Mr. Ole Nnana Kalu on 6th of June 2016. The said petitioner alleged that he transferred the sum of Ninety-One Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N91, 500,000.00) to the deceased for the purpose of doing business with him, which was corroborated by one Uloma Kalu who was also privy to the agreement between the petitioner and the deceased.  

According to the Respondent, following the petition the deceased was arrested and taken into custody of the Commission. Upon interrogation, he voluntarily made a written statement wherein he admitted receiving a bank transfer of N 91, 000,000.00 from Mr. Ole Kalu.  

Contrary to the Applicants’ claim as to the cause of death of the deceased, the Respondent argued that in less than 24 hours after Mr. Nunugwo was taken into custody by EFCC, he collapsed and was immediately rushed to Sami Wadata Hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

The Respondent said that on 16 of June 2016, the Commission through their Director wrote to the Chief Medical Director, National Hospital requesting that a detailed post mortem examination and toxicology analysis be conducted on the deceased to establish the cause of his death and to the Nigerian Police Force which carried out an independent investigation in to the incident.  

According to the Respondent an autopsy was conducted on 18th April 2018 in the presence of the representatives of the deceased family and the Commission by an agreed Pathologist which revealed that the deceased died as a result of ‘malignant hypertension and severe hypertension while the toxicology analysis showed no poisoning. 

The Respondent therefore urged the Court to dismiss the application as the Applicants are not entitled to the reliefs sought and there is no evidence of a violation of the Applicants’ human rights by any community officials. 

On the panel for the case were also Justices Dupe Atoki and Januaria TS Costa