ECONOMIC Community of West
African States, ECOWAS, Court
has imposed a fine of N18million
on the Nigerian government for
violating the human rights of
three Nigerian citizens in 2011.
The three citizens, Dorothy
Njamenze (a popular actress),
Justina Etim and Amarachi
Jessyford, are to be paid N6
million each by the federal
government for their unlawful
arrest, detention and declaration
as prostitutes in Abuja.
Delivering judgement in the
court action instituted against the
government at the regional court,
Justice Friday Chijoke Nwoke
ordered the Nigerian government
to pay the sum to the three ladies
as compensation for humiliation
and inhuman treatment they
suffered during their arbitrary
arrest and proclamation as
Justice Nwoke held that the
Nigerian government was liable
for the arbitrary arrest and
detention of the plaintiffs carried
out by a military operatives,
police and officials of the Abuja
Environmental Protection Board
who claimed to be acting on
the directive of the federal
The judge held that the
government’s pronouncement
in declaring the three ladies
commercial sex hawkers was a
gross violation of their rights
to dignity because there was
no shred of evidence from the
defendants for doing so other
than mere suspicion that they
were outside in the late hours.
The ECOWAS Court agreed
with counsel to the plaintiffs,
Bolaji Gabari, that there was no
law in the Nigerian statute book
prohibiting women from being
outside in the late hours.
Besides, the court held that
the defendant acted in bad faith
and in gross violation of the
fundamental rights of the plaintiffs
to the freedom of movement by
arresting and detaining them at
the Gwarimpa Police Station in
Abuja without informing them
on the reasons for the arrest and
without charging them to court
for any known offence.
Justice Nwoke, who headed
the three man panel of the court
in delivering the judgment
further held that the violent,
cruel, inhuman, degrading
discriminatory and unlawful
treatment meted out to the
plaintiffs by the law enforcement
agents of the federal government
in Abuja was a condemnable act
because the violation of rights of
the plaintiffs to human dignity
was carried out in breach of all
known human rights laws.
He further held that from the
totality of the evidence adduced
during the hearing of the matter
and from the totality of the
claims of the plaintiffs, it is clear
to the court that the action of
the defendants was targeted at
women in the discriminatory ways
and manners, adding that when
women are seen on the streets does
not necessarily mean that they are
prostitute except and unless there
are cogent reasons and evidence
to hold such a position.
The ECOWAS Court further
said that the actions of the law
enforcement agents against the
plaintiffs were painful on the
grounds that after the arrest of the
plaintiffs and their dumping in
detention, the Federal government
did not consider it necessary
through its security agents to
carry out thorough investigation
on the arrested ladies to determine
their status better merely went
out of its way to pronounce them
prostitutes without any cogent
“The right to human dignity
is the most fundamental human
rights and unless legislation
permits, no one must be deprived
of the right to human dignity. In
the instant case the action of the
defendant runs contrary to all
laws on human rights because
the arbitrary arrest, detention
and declaration of the plaintiffs
as a class of prostitute was not
premised on any known law.
At any rate discriminatory
treatment, cruel and inhuman
treatment meted out to the
plaintiffs in this case cannot
be said to be in good faith for
whatever reasons other than the
fact that their fundamental rights
to human dignity have been
violently violated and as such
each of the plaintiff is hereby
awarded six million naira each
to be paid by the defendant for
the unlawful action against the
citizens,” he held.
Justice Nwoke admitted that
law enforcement agents under
the law may have powers to make
lawful arrest but such power
to make lawful arrest becomes
unlawful when the power of
arrest is arbitrarily carried out,
as in the instant case.
Reacting to the judgment,
Dorothy Njamenze who wept
bitterly shortly after the
judgement was handed down
against the government, thanked
the court for doing justice to the
government unlawful claim of
declaring her a prostitute.
She expressed optimism
that with the judgment, the
government will now do away
with all laws and policies
targeted at discriminating
against the women folk.
Also reacting to the judgement,
Chetach Loius Udeh, progamme
officer, Gender Justice Project
for Alliances for Africa, whose
organisation coordinated the
court action for the plaintiffs,
pleaded with the Nigerian
government to learn from the
court judgment by dropping
all actions aimed at exposing
women to unnecessary ridicule,
cruel, inhuman treatment and all
forms of discriminations in the
interest and fair play.

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