In a court ruling, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has held the Federal Government of Nigeria accountable for the infringement of the fundamental human rights of the courageous youths who participated in the historic EndSARS protest in October 2020.

The court, comprising a panel of three esteemed Justices, unanimously concluded that the suit filed by Obianuju Catherine Udeh, Perpetual Kamsi, and Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, three active participants in the protest, carried substantial merit.

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Specifically, the court found that the Federal Republic of Nigeria, through its security agencies, violated multiple articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACPHR).

These violations include encroachments upon the rights to life, security of person, freedom of expression, assembly and association, prohibition of torture, the duty of the state to investigate, and the right to an effective remedy.

While the court dismissed the allegation that the right to life, as guaranteed under Article 4 of the ACPHR, was violated, it ordered the Federal Government to compensate each of the Applicants with the sum of N2 million for the violations of their security of person, prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, as well as their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Moreover, the court emphasized that the Federal Government must fulfill its obligations under the ACPHR by thoroughly investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the violations.

As part of the judgment, the court mandated the Government to submit a report within the next six months, outlining the measures taken to implement the judgment.

The Applicants alleged that during the peaceful protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State, on October 20 and 21, 2020, the Respondent committed numerous human rights violations.

One of the Applicants, Obianuju Catherine Udeh, testified that soldiers fired live ammunition at protesters, resulting in deaths and injuries, which she fearlessly live-streamed. Udeh further revealed that she subsequently received threatening phone calls, compelling her to go into hiding and seek asylum.

Similarly, Perpetual Kamsi, the second Applicant responsible for the welfare of the protesters, narrated how soldiers began shooting after a power cut, leading to her hospitalization due to excessive tear gas inhalation.

The third Applicant, Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, narrowly escaped being shot and witnessed the soldiers’ refusal to allow an ambulance to enter the protest ground and provide medical assistance to the injured participants.

She further testified that the victims were neglected at the hospital, prompting her to personally care for them amidst threats and surveillance from security agents.

Consequently, the Applicants sought declaratory reliefs against the Federal Government and compensation for the violations of their fundamental human rights.

In response, the Federal Government denied all the allegations, asserting that the protesters unlawfully assembled at Lekki Toll Gate under the guise of opposing SARS. It maintained that its agents adhered to strict rules of engagement and did not shoot or kill protesters.

The Government argued that Udeh incited the crowd through music and her Instagram page, attempting to create discord against law enforcement agents targeting Boko Haram and bandits.

Furthermore, the Government claimed that Kamsi’s provision of logistics and welfare packages demonstrated support for the violent protest. It denied harm inflicted on protesters and refuted the alleged denial of access to the ambulance.

The Government also disputed the peaceful nature of Adeyinka’s presence, suggesting it was intended to escalate violence.

It contended that the treatment and care of the injured were managed by the Lagos State government and challenged the credibility of the Applicants’ evidence and sought relief.

In its judgment, the court acknowledged the lack of evidence to establish a violation of the right to life.

However, it concluded that the Respondent (FG) breached several articles of the ACHPR, resulting in significant human rights violations.