Judgements/Resolved Cases

SERAP v Nigeria

This case was filed in 2007 before the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja, arguing that massive corruption in the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) amounted to a denial of the right to a free, quality and compulsory education for Nigerian children. In a landmark judgment delivered in November 2010, the ECOWAS Court in suit no: ECW/CCJ/APP/12/7 upheld SERAP’s submission and declared that the Nigerian government has a legal responsibility to provide as of right, free, quality and compulsory basic education to every Nigerian child.

The suit was filed on behalf of SERAP by Femi Falana, SAN.

The case followed information SERAP received from whistleblowers on the allegations of corruption in the UBEC. After that, SERAP staff and consultants successfully investigated and obtained critical information on massive corruption in the UBE boards including in Benue, Borno, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Sokoto, Yobe, Plateau, Cross River, and Bayelsa. Following the visits made and information gathered, SERAP then petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). The ICPC conducted further investigations on the basis of SERAP’s petition and produced a report. This initiative led to the recovery by the ICPC of over N3 billion (meant for the education of disadvantaged and disabled children) misappropriated by top officials of the UBEC.

The ECOWAS Court in its judgment stated that there was prima facie evidence of embezzlement of funds on the basis of the reports of the ICPC. The Court also stated that while steps should be taken to recover funds and/or prosecute the suspects, the Nigerian government should provide the funds necessary to cover the shortfall in order to avoid denying any of its people the right to education. The court also asked the government to ensure that the right to education is not undermined by corruption. The court held that the UBEC has the responsibility to ensure that funds disbursed for basic education are properly used for this purpose.

This is the first time that a sub-regional human rights court would consider corruption as a violation of human rights.

The case has been widely covered in the media. The respectable ThisDay newspaper in its editorial of 16 March 2008 said “We must thank the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (S.E.R.A.P), a non-governmental organisation for initiating the petition that led to the ICPC investigation in the first place. This is the kind of national duty expected of our Rights Groups. It is a great service to the nation requiring a presidential recognition.

And the Sun newspaper in its editorial of March 20 2008 said “We also commend the pro-active Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) which petitioned the ICPC in the first instance for their patriotic act.” SERAP continues to monitor the spending by the UBEC and to advocate for transparency and accountability in the education sector.

Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association J.B. Daudu said of the ground-breaking ECOWAS Court judgment: “I doff my hat to Femi Falana and SERAP for their timely intervention in the Education Sector of this Country. It is the best Christmas present ever presented to Nigerians. The NBA believes in the use of Public Interest Litigation to compel Government authorities’ compliance with constitutional and statutory provisions and duties. There can be no other way in a democratic society to ensure compliance with statutory directives that the resort to constitutional measures of redress. That is why Government must always respect the decisions of peaceful democratic institutions like our Courts when it is handed down. The alternative to disobedience is to encourage people to contemplate extra-judicial measures for the purpose of seeking redress. We urge Government to forthwith set up the machinery to obey the ECOWAS Court judgment and implement the terms of that judgment to the letter. No government is above the law. Any attempt to sideline the decision of Courts will be resisted by the NBA. This is the only way to secure Peace, Order and good Government in Nigeria.

SERAP v Nigeria

In 2009, SERAP requested the Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa to “urgently intervene to stop the Nigerian government from instigating the passage of a bill in the National Assembly, which aims to undermine the internationally recognized right to freedom of expression and press freedom in the country.”

The petition was successful as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, The Gambia ordered the Nigerian government to work with the National Assembly to ensure the immediate withdrawal of the anti-media bill initiated by Honourable Abike Dabiri Erewa of the House of Representatives.

The African Commission is a body charged with overseeing states parties’ compliance with their obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Nigeria has ratified. The African Commission’s order dated 25 November 2009 and signed by Ms Tlakula states that, “The Special Rapporteur is concerned about reports of the proposed Nigerian Press Council and the Practice of Journalism in Nigeria Bill 2009 (the Bill), before the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This Bill will repeal the Nigerian Press Council Act of 1992.

SERAP v Libya

Following SERAP’s petition before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2009, the Commission ordered the Libyan authorities to stop the execution of Nigerians on death row in Libya, pending the final determination of the case brought by SERAP before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in Banjul, The Gambia.

The case was filed on behalf of SERAP by Femi Falana, SAN.

The petition was successful as Libya immediately suspended the execution of Nigerians on death row in that country.

The information on the compliance by Libya with the Commission’s provisional measures was contained in a paper titled Debating the death penalty—experiences from different regions, dated 25 September 2009 and presented by a member of the African Commission, Ms Catherine Modupe Atoki at the International Peace Institute in New York in October 2009. In the paper, Ms Atoki said that “Early September this year, a communication was filed with the African Commission against Libya by a Nigerian Non-Governmental Organization, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). It alleged that over 200 Nigerians are on death row for offences ranging from immigration, murder, drug and armed robbery. The Commission requested from the President of Libya a provisional measure to stay execution pending the determination of the communication. Happily, the President obliged and for now there is a hold on the execution of the convicted persons.”

SERAP had alleged “serious, persistent and irreparable violations of the Complainants’ rights to life; to communicate with their embassy or consular post; to competent and effective legal representation; to trial within a reasonable time or to a release; to trial by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law; to the presumption of innocence; to an interpreter and to translation; to appeal to an independent and impartial tribunal, and fair trial guarantees during appeals.”

SERAP v Gambia

SERAP and the Centre for Defence of Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CDHRDA) in 2009 asked the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja to stop the Government of Gambia and the ECOWAS Commission from amending the laws concerning the jurisdiction and access to the Community Court.

The Gambian proposals, which were submitted to the ECOWAS Commission and discussed by the Commission’s experts in Abuja call for the inclusion of a requirement for a petition for violation of human rights to the Court to exhaust domestic remedies before the matter is taken to the Community Court of Justice; and to limit the jurisdiction of the Court with regard to human rights treaties already ratified by the Member State before the Court. The proposals also called for amendment of Article 76(2) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty to create an appeals procedure for all decisions of the Community Court.

The case was filed on behalf of the organization by Femi Falana, SAN.

The groups challenged the legality and propriety of the Gambian proposals. The proposals were subsequently rejected by both the ECOWAS experts and the ECOWAS Heads of Government.

SERAP and others v The Gambia

SERAP and two Nigerians on death row in the Gambia in 2012 filed a case before the ECOWAS Court asking the court to urgently stop their impending execution. The Nigerians involved in the case are: Michael Ifunanya and Stanley Agbaeze.

The suit was filed on behalf of SERAP by Femi Falana, SAN.

In the case, SERAP and the Nigerians are alleging that the threat of execution while they (2nd and 3rd plaintiffs) have been denied the right to appeal “violates their human rights to right life; to due process of law; to access to justice and judicial independence; to a fair hearing; to appeal, and to effective remedy.”

According to the plaintiffs, “The 2nd and 3rd plaintiffs are among the 48 people on death row in The Gambia. Without allowing them to exhaust their right of appeal, the Gambian government has threatened the Plaintiffs on or about 15 August 2012 to execute them and all other persons on death row in The Gambia.”

It was also stated that “The Gambian government has threatened to carry out the secret and illegal execution of the Nigerians and other remaining persons on death row by September 2012. But the Gambian parliament has not passed any memorandum endorsing the execution of the Nigerians, as required by Section 81 of the constitution of the Gambia.”

Following the filing of the case and international pressure, the Gambian government has now suspended the execution of the Nigerians and others on death row in their country.


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