The ECOWAS Court has scheduled 29 June 2023 for hearing in a suit in which three relations of a deceased former footballer are asking for 2 billion naira in compensation from the Federal Republic of Nigeria over the killing of their relation by the Army in October 2016 and the government’s failure to conduct a proper investigation.

The presiding judge in the case, Justice Edward Amoako Asante informed the parties of a change of panel necessitated by the end of term of two former judges and the subsequent appointment of new judges including Justice Ricardo Cláudio Monteiro Gonçalves, who has been included in the panel.

Justice Asante also confirmed the willingness of the parties to adopt their previous submissions before giving the new date.

At the previous court sitting on 24th March 2022, counsel to the applicants had summoned a witness but did not file the statement of the witness on oath, contrary to the rules of the Court and was asked to file an application to that effect.

In suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/37/19, Mrs. Portia Otto Alagbada , the wife of the deceased and two others sued the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the unlawful killing of Mr. Izu Umefien Joseph by the Nigerian Army in October 2016. 

In the initiating application, the Applicants said that the uproar caused by the death of Mr. Izu forced the Nigerian Army to issue a press statement in which they accused the deceased of being a cultist.  The Applicants told the Court that they were promised an investigation but that after the visit of one Major Chukka Chima, the Army was never heard from again.

Consequently, the Applicants said they made several attempts to reach out to various Authorities: the Human Rights Desk of the Nigerian Army, their Representative at the House of Representative, the National Assembly and the Nigeria Police Force to no avail.

They told the Court that they presented a petition to the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria, which, by virtue of the Act establishing it, had powers to obtain court orders to “summon and interrogate person, body or authority to appear before it for the purpose of public inquiry aimed at the resolution of a complaint of human rights violations”. In addition, they  wrote a petition to the Presidential panel set up in 2017 to review the compliance of the Nigerian Armed Forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement, whose report was submitted to the government in February 2018.

The applicants alleged that the Respondent has since then neglected, failed or refused to make public the report and had not acted on the recommendations of the panel.

Based on this premise, the Applicants claimed that the Nigerian Government has failed to protect the right to life of their deceased relation and that the conduct of the agents and institutions of the government amounted to the violation of their right to fair hearing. 

They therefore prayed the Court to grant an order directing the Respondent to pay the sum of two billion naira (N2,000,000,000) to the Applicants with an interest rate of 15% per annum in case of delay.

They also asked the Court to order the Respondent to take appropriate steps to investigate the killing.  

In response, the government said that the Army was performing its functions of suppressing insurrection and aiding civil authorities to restore order and that it received information of activities of suspected cultists. It added that the deceased lost his life while beign arrested.

The Respondent also said in its defence that Major Chima from the Army contacted the family as part of investigations into the incident and that the report of the panel could not be enforced as it is still awaiting Presidential approval.

The Respondent refuted the accusation of violation of fair hearing, citing the various authorities and bodies to which the Applicants have lodged complaints and urged the Applicants to exercise more patience.

It therefore urged the Court to declare that it has not violated any of the rights of the Applicants and to dismiss the suit.

The third member of the panel was Justice Dupe Atoki.