The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has fixed 27th April 2017 for judgement in a case filed by a Nigerian student alleging the violation of his right to free intra community movement by agents of the Republic of Benin while in transit at the border between the country and neighbouring Republic of Togo ostensibly for the non-payment of gratification.

Benson Okomba alleged in suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/27/14 that he was ‘harassed, molested and detained’ by security agents of the defendant on 14th March 2014 at Hilacondji, the border town with the Republic of Togo after complying with the routine check but  refusing to pay the 300 CFA gratification demanded by the security agents.

Mr Okomba, who as an ECOWAS citizen is entitled under region’s Protocol to visa free intra-community movement, accused the agents of the violation of his right to free movement and human dignity.

In the suit filed on 25th November 2014 through his counsel Mrs Uchenna Allison Ojiabo,  the plaintiff  who described himself as a part time trader and student said the incident happened while returning from a trip to the Republic of Togo where he can gone to visit a friend.

He contended that his inability to pay a 300cfa franc gratification to get his passport stamped got the officers of the defendant infuriated and they molested him, even after he offered to pay the naira equivalent. He further averred that he sustained injuries and cuts in different parts of the body after which he was detained for about five hours before being allowed to leave eventually with his stamped passport.

On arrival at Seme border post between Benin and Nigeria, he presented himself to the Nigerian Immigration office where he was advised to formally report the matter with the authorities in Cotonou before leaving, which he did.

The plaintiff further averred that he also lodged his complaint with the offices of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of Benin, the International Police (INTERPOL) but was still awaiting the outcome of their intervention.

The defendant, represented by its counsel Mr. Luciano Hounkponou denied the plaintiff’s allegations but accused the plaintiff of declining to present his passport for identification but instead, invoked the ECOWAS provision on free movement of persons and goods.

According to the defendant, the plaintiff created a noisy scene, they managed to explain the procedural requirement to him and that the plaintiff went on his way without further incident and that the defendant was therefore surprised to receive the Court summon.

Among other things, the plaintiff is seeking monetary compensation in the sum of 25 million naira only for sustained trauma suffered, and three million naira for cost of litigation as well as a written apology.

Hon. Justice Friday Chijioke Nwoke who presided over the case adjourned for judgment after hearing both parties. Also on the panel were Honorable Justices Micah Wilkins Wright and Yaya Boiro.

The court also fixed 25th April 2017 for judgement in another case filed by four persons over the ‘sustained environmental degradation, pollution and other hazards suffered by communities in the Niger Delta in Nigeria from oil mining activities and the operations of companies licenced by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/20/15, Nosa Ehanire Osaghae and three others against the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the plaintiffs claimed that the ‘continuous negligence and failure of the government to guarantee the rights of the people to life, good health, free movement and employment has created a deadly level of juvenile delinquency in the region.

The case was filed before the Court on the 1st of June 2015 by counsel to the plaintiff, Mrs. Sophia Happiness Okoedion.

In it, the plaintiffs are demanding an order of the Court directing the government of Nigeria to pay the sum of $30 billion for remedial environmental damages involving an immediate clean up exercise in the region.

They equally demanded an order of the Court mandating the government of Nigeria to facilitate and conduct a self-determination referendum for the over 50 million people of the Niger-Delta region.

In reaction to the order sought for self-determination, counsel to the defendant, Mr. T.D. Agbe, argued that Article 29 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights imposes duties on Nigerian citizens towards their country.

He argued that the rights of the people referred to in the international text cited by the plaintiffs were meant for the Nigerian citizens and not exclusive to the people of the Niger-Delta, which was created by Nigeria.

Furthermore, he contended that self-determination is a right of the people of a nation and not individuals and therefore urged the Court to dismiss the case for lack of merit.

On the panel with Hon Justice Nwoke, were Hon. Justice Micah Wilkins Wright and Hon Justice Alioune Sall.