The ECOWAS Court of Justice has dismissed a case brought by two NGOs alleging violation of right to freedom of expression arising from the failure of Nigeria’s National Assembly to pass a bill that would have provided for independent candidacy during the 2023 elections. The NGOs requested, among others, for an order of the Court compelling the Nigerian government to complete the process of enacting the bill.

In its judgment delivered on 15 March 2024, Hon Justice Dupe Atoki, judge Rapporteur said the Court lacked jurisdiction to determine the case which was largely premised on amendment and review of the Constitution of Nigeria and dismissed the case including the application for default judgment filed by the NGOs.

The case, with suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/39/22, was filed on 12 September 2022 by The Incorporated Trustees of Prince and Princess Charles Offokaja Foundation, Nigeria and Prince and Princess Charles Offokaja Foundation, Switzerland. The Applicants claimed that Nigeria’s National Assembly approved a bill in March 2022 amending the Nigerian Constitution to include independent candidacy in elections alongside 43 other amendment bills and transmitted them to the State Houses of Assemblies for two-thirds concurrence as required by law. However, many of the States were yet to transmit their concurrence or rejection of the bill back to the National Assembly.

The NGO represented by Mr Charles Offokaja told the Court that high ranking officials in Nigeria assured the public that the process of passing the bill into law would be concluded by October 2022. However, these promises were not fulfilled. Consequently, the NGOs claimed that their right to freedom of expression was violated by the slow pace of the process which impacted on its intended publication on the effect of independent candidacy in the 2023 elections if the bill succeeded.

Among others, the Applicants sought a declaration that Nigeria violated their rights to freedom of expression under Article 9 of the African Charter and an order compelling the Nigerian government to implement independent candidacy for the 2023 elections and all future elections.

Following the failure of the Respondent, Federal Republic of Nigeria, to file its statement of defence within stipulated time, the Applicants applied to the Court for default judgment.

In its analysis, the Court noted that though a human right violation was invoked by the NGOs, the subject-matter of the reliefs sought were mainly premised on constitutional amendment in respect of electoral matters which were strictly domestic matters of a State and outside the purview of its jurisdiction. The Court therefore declined jurisdiction and dismissed the case.

On the panel with Justice Atoki were justices Sengu Mohamed Koroma and Ricardo Claúdio Monteiro Gonçalves.