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Immigration detention: ECOWAS Court orders Nigeria to pay German N63.6m, $10,000

Immigration detention: ECOWAS Court orders Nigeria to pay German N63.6m, $10,000 (Updated: Saturday, 6th March 2021, 01:13 AM)


The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ordered the Nigeria government to pay N53,650,925 to a German, Martin Gegenheimer.

The money is special damages for losses suffered and costs incurred while he was under unlawful arrest and detention by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).

Justice Edward Amoako Asante also ordered Nigeria to pay N10,000,000 in general damages as reparation for all violations and moral prejudice suffered for the violation of his rights.

Furthermore, the federal government must pay $10,000 to Gegenheimer being the expenditure incurred to secure his bail.

The court ordered the “immediate and unconditional release” of his German passport which was “arbitrarily and unlawfully” seized, as well as his removal from the government’s watch list.

The court however ruled that it found no evidence of the violation of the plaintiff’s right to freedom from torture.

In suit no: ECW/CCJ/APP/23/20, Gegenheimer, married to a Nigerian citizen but based in Nairobi, Kenya, through his counsel, Festus Ogwuche sought the enforcement of his fundamental human rights.

The applicants, including SAT Swiss Aviation Nigeria Ltd which invited Gegenheimer to Nigeria, contended that he legally entered the country for business purposes, but was wrongfully arrested and detained while on his way back to Kenya.

Gegenheimer, a professional aviator with specialization in commercial airline start up, averred that he arrived at Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Ikeja, Lagos, via Kenya Airways flight number KQ 532 on 9th of February 2020.

He was officially issued with a one month Business Visa number E0014938 at the visa on arrival counter by the Immigration officials.

But while returning to Kenya on 23rd February 2020, he was stopped at the boarding gate of the Kenya Airways aircraft after all necessary departure formalities were completed.

Gegenheimer recalled that he was kept in a jam-packed detention cell between 23rd February, 2020 and 4th March, 2020, despite the COVID-19 protocol, without acceptable food and medical care.

The applicant said 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.

On 4th of March, 2020, an administrative bail was secured for him, ahead of the lockdown in Abuja due to the COVID-19, under very stringent conditions.

These included periodic reporting at the detention centre while his German passport was retained in the explicit custody of the NIS Comptroller General.

Gegenheimer narrated how he engaged an Immigration Consultant to secure his release, after spending over $20 000 in employing different lawyers and confinement to a hotel in Abuja.

The respondents through their counsel J. A. Adamu raised a preliminary objection. They argued that since the German lacked the capacity to bring the action without being a citizen of West Africa.

They contended that the first applicant was detained for presenting a Nigerian passport bearing his photograph and other details but when scanned, revealed the name, passport photo and detail of one Tanimu Aisha, a female Nigerian citizen.

The respondents denied Gegenheimer’s claim of poor treatment at the Screening Centre, where he was first held, and insisted he was well catered for.

They added that after the conclusion of investigation, a charge was filed against at the Federal High Court, Abuja, and CHARGE NUMBER FHC/ABJ/CR/152/2020 – FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA v. MARTIN GEGENHEIMER is being processed for a hearing date.

In the 48-paged judgment, the court also dismissed all the claims of the respondent. Also on the panel were Justices Dupe Atoki and Januaria Costa.

Earlier, the court ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case as the violation occurred in a Member State. Gegenheimer’s wife, children and SAT Swiss Aviation Nigeria Ltd were unsuited as plaintiffs.

The judges also nonsuited the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) as an improper party in the suit.

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