Academics hail court rulings on deported lecturers

Nigerian academics have welcomed a ruling by the Federal High Court in Abuja ordering the repatriation of six academics – five Cameroonian and one Nigerian – who were arrested and deported from Nigeria in January last year on allegations of plotting to overthrow the government of Cameroonian President Paul Biya.

Two separate judgments were handed down by presiding judge, Justice Anwuli Chikere, on 1 March in connection with the matter.

In the first case – brought by a group of human rights lawyers against the National Security Advisor and Attorney General – the judge found that the arrest on 7 January 2018 and subsequent detention of the academics was illegal and unconstitutional. In the second case – brought by the deportees – the judge ruled that the deportation on 26 January 2018 was illegal and violated the deportees’ rights as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.

Power of the courts

The court ruling has been hailed by the university community and staff unions as a sign that the courts can still protect and defend the rights of citizens. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has promised to ensure that the ruling will be enforced.

The academics are part of a larger group of 47 Cameroonian refugees and asylum-seekers who are Anglophone separatists. Some of them have been living in Nigeria for decades and at least one has a Nigerian wife and children.

The university lecturers are: Professor Augustine Awasum, faculty of veterinary medicine at Ahmadu Bello University; Dr Henry Kimeng, department of geology, Ahmadu Bello University; Dr Julius Ayuk Tabe, head, information and technology, American University of Nigeria in Yola; Dr Fidelis Ndeh, director, academic planning, American University of Nigeria in Yola; Dr Cornelius Njikimpe Kwanga, senior lecturer, department of economics, Umaru Musa Yar’adua University in Katsina; and Dr Egbe Ogork, faculty of engineering, Bayero University, Kano.

On the issue of their illegal arrest and detention, the judge ordered the state to pay damages of NGN5 million (US$13,800) to each detainee “as general and aggravated damages for illegal violation of their fundamental rights to life, dignity of person, fair hearing, health, freedom of movement and freedom of association”. On the issue of their deportation, the court ordered the state to pay damages of NGN200,000.

The judge also ruled in both cases that the Nigerian state was under perpetual injunction restraining it from further violation of fundamental rights without lawful justification.

She also ordered that the deportees should be returned to Nigeria as soon as possible.

Solitary confinement

Since their deportation from Abuja to the Cameroon capital Yaoundé in January last year at the hands of Nigerian and Cameroonian security forces, the deportees have been kept in solitary confinement at a maximum-security prison. They were neither charged nor brought to trial.

Soon after their deportation, a team of human rights lawyers led by barristers Femi Falana and Abdul Oroh filed a case in the Federal High Court in Abuja challenging their detention and expulsion. In their submission they rejected the allegation that the group were terrorists bent on overthrowing the Cameroon government.

In July last year, University World News reported that Oroh, who is representing the detainees, said the deportees were members of a political organisation demanding reform of Cameroon’s Constitution with a view to returning the country to genuine federalism.

In an exclusive interview with University World News following the 1 March judgments, Oroh said he had written to Nigeria’s Attorney General Abubakar Malami, informing him of the judgment.

“In my official letter to the attorney general, I attached a certified copy of the two court rulings on this subject matter. I received a call from the attorney general acknowledging the receipt of my letter. He assured me that my letter was receiving urgent attention and that his ministry would soon comply with the court ruling,” said Oroh.

Nigeria’s academic community have welcomed the ruling and hopes are high that the repatriation will be expedited as quickly as possible.

‘The world is watching’

Professor Caleb Abraham from the faculty of law at the University of Uyo said both Nigeria and Cameroon are signatories of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“In the light of these rights, the arrest and deportation of our colleagues is illegal and unconstitutional. Therefore, both the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments should implement this court ruling by ensuring these teachers and others are repatriated to Nigeria and their rights in Nigeria are enforced. The entire world is watching,” he said.

Professor Adekunle Akinlaja from the faculty of law at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, said both President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and President Paul Biya of Cameroon may find it difficult to explain and rationalise their actions on this matter within the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN’s Universal Declaration.

“However there is still room to rectify these wrongs,” he declared.

Highlighting the lack of irrationality in the government’s actions, Dr Muktar Ismail, based in the sociology department at the University of Jos, said Dr Cornelius Njikimpe Kwanga was married to a Nigerian.

“By right they are Nigerians. How would the Nigerian government rationalise its actions against those who by marriage are now Nigerians? We should also note that Professor Augustine Awasum is a total Nigerian, born of Nigerian parents from Southern Kaduna. How could he then be a Cameroonian?” he asked.

Dr Kolawole Akomolafe from the economics department of the Federal University Oye-Ekiti, noted that the list of the “alleged plotters” included names of responsible scholars and teachers.

“These are scholars and teachers who have dedicated their lives to the development of Nigeria. I have known them for over 20 years,” he declared.