ECOWAS Court dismisses claims that 105 persons lost in herdsmen clashes


The ECOWAS Court of Justice has dismissed for lack of locus standi, a suit filed by 14 persons from Nigeria’s Adamawa State asking for 5 billion naira in damages from the government of Nigeria for the violation of their rights to life and property following several attacks allegedly by Fulani herdsmen and a jet and helicopter gunship of the country’s air force in 2017.

Delivering judgment in Abidjan on Thursday, 21 October 2021 in the suit filed by Lawrence Jocthan and 13 others, who sued for themselves and seven communities in the state, the court in its judgment read by the Judge Rapporteur, Honorable Justice Keikura Bangura held that the Applicants have no locus standi either to initiate the application as individual victims nor act in representative capacity for the seven communities listed in the suit.

In analysing the case, the court identified two issues for determination mainly whether from the totality of evidence before it, the Applicants have the capacity to sue for themselves as victims of the alleged human rights violation and whether they have the capacity to initiate the action in a representative capacity.

On the first issue, the Court held that it has in a plethora of cases as reflected in several judgments, clearly emphasised that the onus of any applicant suing in their names and whose application is based on human rights violations to prove a victim status which should be supported by evidence.

“In this particular instance, the Court finds that the facts alleged by the Applicants are devoid of evidence sufficient to support the loss of life and property suffered by the Applicants either as direct or indirect victims,” the Court said.

While it took note of all the evidence before it, the Court held that the Applicants have not made any substantial link with the evidence submitted so far to support their claim as victims who suffered losses as a result of the alleged human rights violations.

Relying on its jurisprudence, the Court said it ‘ will not act on mere allegations of violation but that each allegation must be substantiated with some concrete facts as the case may require.”

On the issue of whether they can sue in representative capacity, the Court said that “ it is settled law that any action by an individual in a representative capacity must be supported by proof of mandate and/or authority to act on behalf of the victims.

It noted that the Applicants relied on a copy of the power of attorney presented to support a mandate granting them the authority to act on behalf of the victims in the seven communities of Dong, Lawuru, Shafoton, Kodomti, Nzorue, Pulum and Baya in the Numan and Demsa local government areas of the State that was neither granted by the victims nor the local authorities.

“Consequently, the Court finds that the mandate relied on by the Applicants to act in a representative capacity lacks persuasive influence as it was neither endorsed by the victims nor the local authorities,” the Court concluded.

The Court had earlier declared that it has jurisdiction to hear the case contrary to the contention of the Respondent, the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that the application was admissible.

In suit no ECW/CCJ/APP/11/19, the Applicants had averred that following skirmishes between the herdsmen and indigenous farmers in seven communities of the state in which some fatalities were recorded on both sides in November 2017, herdsmen from the neighbouring States and West Africa flocked into a nearby village to attack the farmers. 

Despite alerting the security agencies, the Applicants alleged that nothing was done to avert the subsequent mayhem which led to the death of 105 people, injury to 80 others and the destruction of property valued at one billion, twenty-three million, seven hundred and nine thousand, two hundred and thirty-five naira.

They told the Court that various security services were alerted on the invasion and they initially took steps to intercept and disperse the hordes by deploying some soldiers and 300 policemen to the area who inexplicably withdrew on 2nd December 2017, a day after six of the policemen and one civilian, were allegedly killed by the herdsmen.

Moreover, they claimed that the military deployed a few soldiers who withdrew after they were threatened by the headsmen although the Air force maintained surveillance over the fully armed and combat ready herdsmen.

The applicants further alleged that on 4th December, 2017, the herdsmen attacked the seven villages during which many of the farmers were killed, houses razed, livestock stolen while their vehicles and other machinery were set ablaze. 

The court began sitting in external session in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire on Tuesday, 19th October 2021 during which it will deliver judgment in 11 cases and hear 38 others.

Also on the panel were Honorable Justices Gberi-be Ouattara (Presiding) and Dupe Atoki.