The ECOWAS Court of Justice on 3 July 2024 ruled that the amended application brought by a Non-governmental organization (NGO) seeking to include sections of Nigeria’s Criminal Code allegedly inconsistent with human rights laws and in violation of the rights of vulnerable citizens, was properly filed before it.

Justice Edward Amoako Asante, Presiding and Judge Rapporteur, who delivered the Ruling said that the amendment to the application did not substantially change the case citing Article 87 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court which allows a party to amend its application if it did not delve into the substance of the case.

Consequently, the Court held that the amended application was properly filed before it and ordered the Respondent – state of Nigeria to file its response within 30 days.

The case ECW/CCJ/APP/25/21 was filed before the Court by Rommy Mom and Bamidele Jacobs, lawyers representing the NGO – Lawyers Alert Initiative for Protecting the Rights of Children, Women and the Indigent, on 11 June 2021. In the initiating application, the NGO, duly registered in Nigeria and devoted to advancing the rights of poor and vulnerable groups as well as monitoring and documentation of human rights violations across Nigeria, claimed that aspects of Sections 405, 406, and 407 of the Penal Code of Nigeria were inconsistent with provisions of Articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12,18 and 19 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), thereby violating the human rights of vulnerable groups in Nigeria.

The NGO also claimed that the Penal Code which is a subsidiary of the Nigerian Constitution and enforceable in Northern Nigeria empowered state actors to enforce vagrancy laws which punished individuals for their status of being poor and underprivileged rather than their actions.

It asked the Court to declare these sections of the Penal Code of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as inconsistent with the ACHPR and other international human rights laws adopted by Nigeria. It also demanded that the Court declare that these sections violated the rights of poor and marginalized groups in Nigeria and were vagrancy laws.

On their part, the Nigerian government represented by Maimuna Lami Shiru and Aatikat Rufai denied the claims. They contended that the Penal Code was clear and unambiguous and did not amount to vagrancy as alleged by the NGO. Moreso, the NGO’s allegations lacked evidence in support of its claims and urged the Court to dismiss the claims and the reliefs sought.

However, on 4 December 2023, the NGO approached the Court seeking to amend its initial application to include Sections 249 and 250 of the Criminal Code Act applicable in Southern

Nigeria which it claimed were also inconsistent with the provisions of the ACHPR and violated the human rights of vulnerable Nigerians.

In response, the Nigerian government opposed the NGO’s request to amend the initial application arguing that would change the entire case and contravened the Rules of the Court.

At the last hearing held on 2 May 2024, the Court heard the counterarguments of both parties and adjourned for Ruling.

In its Ruling delivered today, the Court granted the NGO’s application for amendment and adopted the amended application. It also granted 30 days period for the state of Nigeria to file its response. Also on the three-member panel were Honourable Justices Sengu Mohamed Koroma and Ricardo Claúdio Monteiro Gonçalves.