The Community Court of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) has ordered the Nigerian government to pay a soldier – Private Barnabas Eli – N10million as compensation for the violation of his right to work following his dismissal from the Army for the loss of his rifle in 2012 for which he was sentenced to two years imprisonment by a court martial without recourse to the Confirming Authority before enforcement.
The court equally ordered Nigeria to pay Eli the arrears of his salary and other entitlements from March 2015 to the date of his release from detention.
In a default judgment, delivered on October 11, 2019 under Article 90(4) of the court’s Rules, the court held that it was mandatory that decisions of court martial are subjected to the confirmation by the Confirming Authority.
According to the court’s spokesperson, Elohor Ovadje, the default judgment was pursuant to a motion filed by Eli on October 10, 2018.
A three-man panel of the court, led by Justice Gberi-Be Ouattara , also held that the Nigerian government violated Eli’s right to be heard within a reasonable time.
On whether the decision of the court martial required confirmation by the appropriate authority before enforcement, the court relied on the provisions of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 which stipulates the punishment for the loss of public or service property but required that the decision of such a court martial must be transmitted to a confirming authority for the confirmation of the finding and sentence.
The court was of the view that although the arrest, detention and trial of the applicant were validly done, the conviction not having been confirmed is ‘null and void.’
The court equally found “that the detention in prison of the applicant was arbitrary and consequently a violation of his rights to liberty contrary to Section 6 of the African Charter.”
It however, rejected Eli’s request to hold the Nigerian government in violation of his right to equality before the law; equal protection before the law; right to non discrimination; right to life and to protection from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as punishment on the grounds that evidence were not to support these claims.
Eli had, in his suit, marked: ECW/CCJ/APP/44/16, claimed to be a member of the Nigerian Army.
He averred that in 2012, in the course of his official duty, a rifle belonging to the Army was stolen at his duty post in Sector 7, Riyom in the country’s Plateau State.
Eli claimed to have been arrested, detained, tried by a court martial and dismissed, without being accorded fair gearing.
He then sued before the court, and argued among others, that his arrest, detention, trial, conviction and subsequent dismissal by the Army is illegal, ultra vires, null and void as it contravenes the provisions of Article 6 of the African Charter and other human rights instruments.
The government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, named as the defendant, did not put up a defence in rebuttal to the claims of the applicant.
Justices Dupe Atoki and Januaria Costa were the other two members of the court’s three-man panel that heard the case.