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ECOWAS Court Orders Nigeria To Provide Free Education To Every Child

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ABUJA, Nov 30, (THEWILL) - In a dramatic and ground-breaking judgment today, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja ordered the Nigerian government to provide as of right, free and compulsory education to every Nigerian child. This judgment followed the court’s earlier ruling that declared that all Nigerians are entitled to education as a legal and human right. The ECOWAS Court’s judgment read in open court today, followed a suit instituted by the Registered Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) against the Federal Government and UBEC, alleging the violation of the right to quality education, the right to dignity, the right of peoples to their wealth and natural resources and to economic and social development guaranteed by Articles 1, 2, 17, 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Court also ruled that the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) failed to discharge its legal responsibility pursuant to its foundational instrument to monitor how states are spending and using states’ natural wealth and resources in order to ensure that the resources are spent for the purposes for which they are meant. The court also said that the ICPC report on the diversion of the sum of N3.5 billion from the UBE fund by certain public officers in 10 states of the Federation of Nigeria constitutes only a prima-facie evidence of theft of the public funds until the officials involved are successfully prosecuted before national courts. On this ground, the court did not elaborate on the provisions of Articles 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. According to the Court the right to education can be enforced before the Court and dismissed all objections brought by the Federal Government, through the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), that education is “a mere directive policy of the government and not a legal entitlement of the citizens.” Reacting to the ruling, SERAP’s Solicitor Femi Falana, who filed and argued the case before the Court with Adetokunbo Mumuni, said, “This is the first time an international court has recognized a state obligation to provide legally enforceable human right to education to its citizens, and sends a clear message to ECOWAS member states, including Nigeria and indeed all African governments, that the denial of this human right to millions of African citizens will not be tolerated. “We commend the ECOWAS Court for its ground-breaking judgment, which has permanently re-defined human rights jurisprudence in Africa. The ECOWAS Court has consistently demonstrated courage and industry in the discharge of its vital role in putting an end to violation of all human rights and impunity of perpetrators in the sub-region. We also acknowledge the important contribution of Dr Kolawole Olaniyan of Amnesty International in London, to the case. "In the current climate, where economic and social rights are not deemed legally enforceable in Nigerian courts and where victims of violations of these human rights are denied access to an effective remedy, this unanimous judgment of the ECOWAS Court of Justice is a welcome landmark. It reaffirms that states are obliged to promote and ensure the universality and indivisibility of all human rights as recognized by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“The judgment is very promising for countless children who continue to be denied their legally enforceable human right to education, and for millions of Nigerians who continue to face extreme poverty as a result of high level official corruption and diversion of Nigeria’s natural wealth and resources for personal use.” “Today the ECOWAS Court of Justice has shown itself to be a uniquely effective human rights mechanism; and as the only hope that Nigerian victims of large scale official corruption and the associated human rights violations, especially economic and social rights have for justice and effective remedy. Nigeria has a clear obligation to fully implement and comply with the judgment. The Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS should ensure that the court’s judgment is respected, and thereby ensure the court’s long-term effectiveness.” “The Nigerian government and indeed all African governments should now put every child in school, and educate them at the expense of the state,” Falana added.

SERAP’s suit [No ECW/CCJ/APP/0808] followed a petition sent by SERAP to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which led to the discovery by the ICPC of massive corruption and mismanagement of the UBEC funds. The investigation also resulted in the recovery of stolen N3.4 billion, meant to improve the quality of education and access to education of every Nigerian child. The organization used the findings of the ICPC as the basis for its suit before the ECOWAS Court.