The ECOWAS Court of Justice has ordered the Nigerian government to pay a soldier, Barnabas Eli, N10 million as compensation following his dismissal from the Nigerian Army for the loss of his rifle in 2012.
The court also ordered the government to pay Mr Eli, a private, the arrears of his salary and other entitlements from March 2015 to the date of his release from detention.
Following the loss of the rifle, the soldier was sentenced to two years imprisonment by a court martial without recourse to the confirming authority before enforcement.
Delivering a default judgment under Article 90(4) of the Rules of the Court following a motion filed by the applicant on October 10, 2018, the court also held the government in violation of the applicant’s right to be heard within a reasonable time.
In determining whether the decision of the court martial required confirmation by the appropriate authority before enforcement, the ECOWAS Court relied on the provisions of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20, which stipulates the punishment for the loss of public or service property.
The law however said the punishment 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 ECOWAS Court held that although the arrest, detention and trial of the applicant were validly done, the conviction not having been confirmed by a higher authority was ‘null and void.’
Consequently, the court ruled in its judgment on October 11 ‘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.”
However, the court rejected the applicant’s request to hold the government in violation 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.
In suit No. ECW/CCJ/APP/…/2016, the applicant said that in 2012, in the course of his official duty, a rifle belonging to the Nigerian Army was stolen at his duty post in Sector 7, Riyom in the country’s Plateau State.
He was consequently arrested, detained, tried and dismissed from the army.
He then approached the court to adjudge 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 African Charter and other human rights instruments.
The Nigerian government did not put up a defence in rebuttal to the claims of the applicant during the trial.
On the panel of the court for the case were Gberi-Be Ouattara, (Presiding) Dupe Atoki and Januaria Costa.