By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, has ordered the Federal Republic of Nigeria to pay the sum of N53, 650,925 to a German national, Mr. Martin Gegenheimer, as special damages for various losses suffered and costs incurred while under unlawful arrest and detention by the Nigerian Immigration Service.
The court held that the cost was mainly to offset hotel expenses incurred by the German while under forced detention by the government.
Delivering judgment in a suit that as filed by the German, a panel of three judges headed by Hon. Justice Edward Amoako Asante also ordered FG to pay another N10million naira in general damages as reparation for all violations and moral prejudice the Applicant suffered for the violation of his rights, as well as another $10,000, being the expenditure he incurred to secure his bail.
Besides, the regional Court ordered the “immediate and unconditional release” of the German passport of the Applicant, which it said was “arbitrarily and unlawfully” seized by the government, as well as the removal of his name from the government’s watch list.
The Court however ruled that it found no evidence of the violation of the Paintiff’s right to freedom from torture.
In suit marked: ECW/CCJ/APP/23/20 Mr. Gegenheimer, who is married to a Nigerian citizen but based in Nairobi, Kenya, through his Counsel, Mr Festus A. Ogwuche, sought 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 Applicants, which also included SAT Swiss Aviation Nigeria Ltd, the company at whose invitation he came to Nigeria, contended 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 carried out business in Nigeria, Kenya and Africa at large since 1990.
He said he was requested to come to Nigeria for business negotiations, and he obtained the necessary approvals for visa on arrival to legally enter Nigeria.
The first applicant averred that he arrived at Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Ikeja, Lagos via Kenya airways flight number KQ 532 on 9th of February 2020 and 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.
He told the court that while returning to his home base in Kenya on February 23, 2020, 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 till March 4, 2020, despite the Covid protocol and without acceptable food as well as medical care.
The Applicant alleged that he was not informed about any justifying circumstances recognized by law, and neither was a warrant of arrest nor court order produced as the basis for his arrest and detention.
Moreover, he alleged that he was not afforded the opportunity of fair hearing before any lawful authority or competent court.
According to him, it was not until March 4, 2020, that an administrative bail was secured for him in the face of the pending lockdown in Abuja due to the Covid-19 pandemic, under very stringent condition 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.
The Applicant argued 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, adding that he was not told of the nature of the allegations against him nor charged for any offense.
He averred that he had to rely on the services of a professional Immigration Consultant to secure his release and after spending over $20 000.00, in employing different lawyers, but has since then been confined to Abuja where he had been staying in a hotel.
Meanwhile, the Respondents, through their Counsel Mallam J.A Adamu, raised a preliminary objection, arguing 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 denied the Applicant’s claim of poor treatment at the Screening Centre, where he was first held but said he was instead 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.
The Respondent contended that after conclusion of investigation, a charge was filed against Mr. Gegenheimer at the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, and CHARGE NUMBER FHC/ABJ/CR/152/2020 – FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA v. MARTIN GEGENHEIMER which is being processed for a hearing date.
The court had earlier ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case as the violation occurred in a Member State and delisted the wife and children of the plaintiff as well as SAT Swiss Aviation Nigeria Ltd as Plaintiffs in the suit.
It also delisted 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 Respondent.
Other members of the panel were Justices Dupe Atoki and Januaria Costa.