The ECOWAS Court has ordered the Nigerian government to pay N100,089,140 million (One hundred million, eighty nine thousand, one hundred and forty naira) as special damages to a family whose property was demolished four years ago under a 2009 law of the country’s Imo State that allowed for the demolition of the homes of kidnappers as part measures to curb the menace of kidnapping in the state.

 The award represents the total cost of the buildings and other household items destroyed by agents of the State government, namely, one unit of bungalow of 15 bedrooms and two sitting rooms, another bungalow of seven bedrooms and a sitting room and a third bungalow of six bedrooms and a sitting room.

 Delivering judgment on Tuesday, 3rd July 2018 in a case brought by one Chief Damian Onwuham and 22 other members of the family, the Court held that the 12th April 2014 demolitions on ‘account of an unsubstantiated allegation of the offence of kidnapping without trial is illegal, unlawful and violated’ Articles 7 and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

 The Court also awarded another 20 million naira (twenty million naira) to the family as general damages for the violation of the Applicants’ fundamental rights to fair hearing, human dignity and right to property but rejected the family’s claims for exemplary damages.

 A three member panel of the Court presided over by Honorable Justice Friday Chijioke Nwoke also directed the government to ‘investigate the circumstances surrounding the disappearance  of the First Applicant’s son, Obinna Kasarachi Onwuham with a view to determining his whereabouts, and where an offence is found to have been committed, prosecute the culprits.’

 Obinna, the alleged kidnapper, was allegedly handcuffed and taken from the family home on 19th December 2012 by members of Operation Rescue Imo, a state security outfit comprising of policemen, soldiers, members of the State Security Service and the Civil Defence Corps.

 While the court acknowledged the ‘devastating effect’ of kidnapping on the economy and safety of citizens of any state confronted with the menace which justifies ‘drastic measures,’ it held that such ‘measures have to be within the confines of the law, having regard to what is fair and just and in the circumstance avoid acts that tend to violate the right of others.’

 The panel said: ‘it appears that the anti-kidnapping law of the defendant, if it exits, prescribes punishment without recourse to trial by an independent tribunal,’ which is inconsistent with international best practices that provides for trial by a Court or Tribunal for any offence created by law as well as against ‘all known human rights norms for punishment to be imposed on a suspect without the necessity of a trial.’

 The panel characterised such a law, among other things as’ punitive, obnoxious and indeed an exhibition of the highest point of impunity,’ which if ‘allowed under any guise then all of us are endangered species.’ It also criticised the demolition based on the State anti-kidnapping law as a form of collective punishment that is neither consistent with international law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights nor the  country’s  1999 Constitution.

 In suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/13/14, Chief Onwuham and the others alleged the violations of their rights to fair hearing and effective investigation; right to presumption of innocence; right to property and right to dignity of the human person as guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

 The plaintiffs also alleged that the defendant failed to carry out impartial and effective investigation on the owner of the properties and that none of the applicants nor the suspected kidnapper has far been charged to court and that the continuous detention of the suspect was unlawful.

 They  demanded general damages in the amount of Fifty Million Naira (N50,000,000);  One Hundred Million, Eighty-Nine Thousand, One Hundred and Forty Naira (100,089,140) as special damages for the reconstruction and furnishing of the demolished buildings, and exemplary damages in the sum of Five Hundred Million Naira (N500,000,000).    

 In its defence, the first defendant, the Federal Republic of Nigeria denied knowledge of the alleged actions and attached a document signifying that the security initiative – “Operation Rescue Imo” was an initiative of the second defendant, Imo State.

 Also on the panel were Honorable Justices Yaya Boiro, and Alioune Sall.