The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice of has ordered the Nigerian government to pay N53.7million to a German national, Martin Gegenheimer, as special damages for various losses suffered and costs incurred while under unlawful arrest and detention by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS).
The regional court sitting in Abuja said the cost related mainly to hotel expenses incurred by the German while under forced detention by the federal government agency.
Delivering judgment in a suit filed by the German, a panel of three judges headed by Justice Edward Amoako Asante also ordered the Nigerian government to pay additional N10 million in general damages as reparation for all violations and moral prejudice suffered for the violation of his rights.
Also on the panel were Justices Dupe Atoki and Januaria Costa.
Another sum of $10,000 was imposed by the court on the government to be paid to cover the expenditure incurred by the applicant to secure his bail from detention, despite that bail in Nigeria is free.
The Court also ordered the ‘immediate and unconditional release’ of his German passport which it said was ‘arbitrarily and unlawfully’ seized by the Nigeria government as well as his removal from the government’s security watch list.
The Court however ruled that it found no evidence of the violation of the plaintiff’s right to torture.
Details of case
Gegenheimer married to a Nigerian citizen, but based in Nairobi, Kenya filed suit No: ECW/CCJ/APP/23/20, through his Counsel, Festus A. Ogwuche seeking the enforcement of his fundamental human rights along with those of his children arising from his wrongful arrest and unlawful detention as well as the seizure of his German Passport.
The German, in his application, also included SAT Swiss Aviation Nigeria Limited, the company at whose invitation he visited Nigeria.
The company had said that the German legally entered the country for business purposes, but was wrongfully arrested and detained while on his way back to Kenya, resulting in the violation of his rights to fair hearing, freedom of movement and dignity of his human person.
The first Applicant, who is a professional aviator with specialization in commercial airline start-up, said he had lived in and outside Nigeria and carrying on business in Nigeria, Kenya and Africa at large since 1990.
Gegenheimer said having been invited to Nigeria for business negotiations, he obtained the necessary approvals for visa on arrival to legally enter Nigeria.
He said on arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Ikeja, Lagos via Kenya airways flight number KQ 532 on February 9, 2020, he was officially issued with a one-month Business visa number E0014938 at the visa on arrival counter by the officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service.
While returning to his home base in Kenya on February 23, 2020, the German said he was stopped at the boarding gate of the Kenya Airways aircraft after all necessary departure formalities were completed, arrested, his passport seized and detained in a jam-packed detention cell.
Between February 23 and March 4, 2020, he said he was kept in the cell with other suspected criminals despite the COVID-19 protocol and without acceptable food as well as medical care.
He alleged that he was not informed about any justifiable reason recognized by law why he was being arrested and detained, neither was a warrant of arrest nor court order produced as the basis for his humiliating experience.
Also, he alleged he was not afforded the opportunity of fair hearing before any lawful authority or competent court until March 4, 2020 when an administrative bail was secured for him in the face of the pending lockdown in Abuja due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the bail, he said he was subjected to very stringent conditions which included periodic reporting at the detention centre, while his German passport was retained in the explicit custody of the Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service.
Gegenheimer also contend that the retention of his passport had the effect of keeping him in perpetual detention in Nigeria as he could neither continue his business nor return to his family in Kenya, despite not being told the nature of his offence or charged for any offence.
He said he was compelled to rely on the services of a professional Immigration Consultants to secure his release after spending over $20,000 to hire different lawyers and confined to staying in a hotel in Abuja.
But the Respondents through their Counsel, J.A, Adamu in its preliminary objection, argued that since the first applicant is a German Citizen, he lacked the capacity to bring the action not being a citizen of West Africa.
The Respondent contended that the first applicant was detained for presenting a standard Nigerian passport bearing his photograph and other details, but which when scanned, revealed the name, passport photo and detail of one Tanimu Aisha, a female Nigerian citizen.
The Respondent counsel denied the Applicant’s claim of poor treatment at the Screening Centre, where he was first held.
The lawyer said he was well catered for and provided with food and all basic comforts during his stay and also denied all other sundry allegations of violation of the Applicant’s rights.
After the conclusion of investigation, a charge FHC/ABJ/CR/152/2020, titled Federal Republic of Nigeria V. Martin Gegenheimer was filed against Gegenheimer at the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division.
The court had earlier ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case as the violation occurred in a member state and non-suited the wife and children of the plaintiff as well as SAT Swiss Aviation Nigeria Ltd as plaintiffs in the suit.
It also declared the Nigerian Immigration Service as an improper party in the suit.
In the 48-paged judgment, the Court also dismissed all the claims of the Nigerian Immigration Service.