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Nigerian governor using COVID-19 as pretext for ‘brutal crackdown and repression’ sued at ECOWAS court

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Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has launched legal action against governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari at the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja over the “brutal crackdown, repression, and grave violations and abuses of the human rights of the people of Rivers State.”

SERAP said in a suit filed last Friday that “Governor Wike is using COVID-19 as a pretext to step up repression and systematic abuses against the people of Rivers state, including by carrying out mass arbitrary detention, mistreatment, forced evictions, and imposing pervasive controls on daily life.”

According to SERAP, “Governor Wike is using executive orders 1 and 6, 2020 as instruments to violate and abuse the rights to liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, to a fair trial, and to property, contrary to Nigeria’s international human rights obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

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SERAP said: “This suit is primarily against Governor Wike and the Rivers state government for failing to respect, protect and ensure the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed human rights of the people of his state. The governor has used executive orders 1 and 6 to run roughshod over the human rights of Nigerians.”

“Ultimately, the Federal Government, being the signatory to ECOWAS treaties and protocols, cannot escape its responsibility to ensure that the human rights guaranteed under human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party, are fully and effectively realized throughout Nigeria, including in Rivers state.”

“Suing the Federal Government alongside Governor Wike is entirely consistent with article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which provides that a state may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.”

SERAP is asking the court for an order of injunction to “restrain and stop Governor Wike from further using, applying and enforcing executive orders 1 and 6 or any other executive orders to harass, arbitrarily arrest, detain and demolish property of the people of Rivers state.”

SERAP is also seeking an order directing “Governor Wike and the other defendants to pay adequate monetary compensation to the victims of human rights violations and abuses, and to provide other forms of reparation, which may take the form of restitution, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition, and other forms of reparation that the Honourable Court may deem fit to grant.”

The suit filed on SERAP’s behalf by its solicitors Kolawole Oluwadare, Atinuke Adejuyigbe and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “SERAP contends that several people were arbitrarily arrested and detained in various police stations and isolation centres in Rivers State and without any regard for due process of law.”

“Governor Wike and his agents used, applied and enforced executive orders 1 and 6 to suppress and repress the human rights of the people and business operators, including harassing, arbitrarily arresting, detaining, and torturing anyone found exercising their rights within Rivers State, all in the guise of enforcing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the state.”

“The wanton destruction of people’s property, harassment, arrest, and detention of persons exercising their rights to personal liberty and other human rights amount to an affront to the Nigerian constitution of 1999 (as amended) and the country’s international human rights obligations.”

“The executive orders, including executive order 6, by Governor Wike are invalid, illegal and unconstitutional, having not complied with the requirements of due process of law. The order by Governor Wike to demolish any hotel or guest house found operating in Rivers state is ultra vires the penalty stipulated in executive order number 6.”

“Demolition of hotels and guest houses is illegal and unconstitutional, as it runs afoul of the penalty stipulated in the Quarantine Act, which provides only a fine of N200 or imprisonment for a term of six months or both. The demolition is a blatant violation of article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

“Governor Wike, demolition workers and security agents without due process of law demolished Prudent Hotel, Alode in Eleme, and Etemeteh Hotel in Onne on Saturday, May 9, 2020, and fragrantly breached the rights of the owners, employees and occupiers. The demolitions were supervised by Governor Wike in the company of security agents of the Federal Government.”

“SERAP contends that Governor Wike with the complicity or support of the Federal Government of Nigeria carried out these demolitions without giving adequate notice, compensation, alternative hotel or affording the victims legal remedies. Many people have now been deprived of their means of livelihood, employment and shelter, and exposed to other serious human rights violations and abuses.”

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