The ECOWAS Court of Justice has on 4 July 2024 dismissed the claims of human rights violations brought by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that asked the Court to hold the Federal Republic of Nigeria liable for breaching its international obligation to protect human rights.

Justice Sengu Mohamed Koroma, Judge Rapporteur who delivered the judgment said the Court dismissed all claims of rights violations due to lack of facts and evidence in support of the allegations and ordered the NGO to pay a nominal cost of One Hundred Thousand Naira to the Nigerian government.

The initiating application with suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/40/21 was filed on 22 July 2021 by The Registered Trustees of HEDA (Human and Environmental Development Agenda) Resource Centre, a registered NGO focused on anti-corruption, and non-partisan human rights and development in Nigeria.

The suit was premised on alleged failure of Nigeria to guarantee the rights to life, dignity of the human person, physical and mental health, and right to healthy environment for Nigerians particularly those residing in the oil producing areas of Nigeria.

Relying on Articles 1, 4, 5, 16 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Counsel representing the NGO claimed that despite the prohibition of gas flaring by an Act of government “Association of Gas Reinjection Act of 1979, gas flaring persisted, thereby exposing the people living in the oil producing areas to hazards including cancer, lung damage, deformities in children and skin problems.

He further claimed that environmental pollution from gas flaring contributed to global warming and climate change, adding that Nigeria’s failure to tackle it, has resulted in damaging effects on lives, the environment and monetary loss.

The NGO asked the Court to declare the continuous gas flaring in Nigeria as illegal and a gross violation of fundamental rights, and that the Nigerian government is obliged to stop gas flaring in Nigeria. It also demanded orders of the Court compelling the government to enforce gas flaring regulations against defaulters, and direct it to collect fines from defaulters.

In response, the State of Nigeria denied all the claims made by the NGO. The Counsel for the Respondent averred that the claims lacked facts and evidence, and were baseless, and urged the Court to dismiss them.

In its findings, the Court noted that the Respondent adduced proof of updated laws on regulation of the petroleum industry and other implementation measures taken to improve the environment in oil producing area and decrease gas flaring. It also noted that the NGO did not counter the submissions of the Respondent concerning its efforts to protect host communities.

As a matter of fact, the Court observed the failure of the NGO to provide any evidence supporting its claim of loss of lives, breach of the right to dignity of the human person, breach of right to physical and mental health, and lack of provision of a healthy environment owing to gas flaring. The Court therefore dismissed the claims for lack of proof.

Also on the panel were Justice Dupe Atoki and Justice Ricardo Claúdio Monteiro Gonçalves.