Suing someone or an authority or government agency for a human rights violation can be a richly rewarding experience. It could be a psychological boost. Socially, it can set society on a better course. Then, financially, it could be a jackpot, a heaven sent opportunity for the victim or dependents to smile broadly to the Bank. Either way, the one who sues has nothing to loose in the litigation.
Once there is a rights violation, there are some important things to consider:
1. Identify the Perpetrator(s).
This is so important as the identified perpetrator will be the Defendant (or more appropriately, the Respondent) to the breach of human rights suit.
If you are unsure about the identity of the actual perpetrator, then you can sue as many people as participated in the violation, or their employers. For example, if the violation was committed by armed soldiers, then you can just sue the Army authorities, who are the employers. Or you just sue the relevant State or Federal Attorney General. In this regard, failure to specifically identify the official or person who committed the violation will be irrelevant as the Appeal Court held in G.O.K. Ajayi v Attorney General of Federation.
2. Identify the Court with relevant Jurisdiction
In Nigeria, jurisdiction is a big issue. So, check carefully. By the Nigeria Constitution and developed body of subject case law, you can file a human rights law suit in either the State High Court (or High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja) or the Federal High Court in the State where the violation occurred or is likely to occur or merely threatened.
Broadly, if the violator is an agent of the Federal Government who was going about on Federal Government business and the suit will involve Federal monies, then file in the Federal High Court. But if the violator is a private individual or agent of a State Government, or even a Federal agent involved in State Government business, then file in a State High Court.
3. Identify your Claim
The Nigeria case law on fundamental rights claims has narrowed actionable violations only to situations where the Applicant’s principal or main claim is a breach of fundamental rights.
So, be careful to craft your relief contextually within the fundamental rights provisions of Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution, like breach of or threatened breach of the right to Life (as in where someone has been killed), Breach of Right to fair hearing, violation of Privacy Rights (like publication of naked pictures, videos or private chats on the internet without prior consent), Forceful takeover of Property, Curtailment of Right to move freely, etcetera.
4. Claim Big Money
What is the value of a human life? What is the value of liberty curtailed over a period of time? Litigators are required to practice the actuarial sciences and properly evaluate the monetary value or worth of the case.
So, do not be timid. You need to boldly claim in Millions or Hundreds of Millions or even Billions of Naira, and then put enough legally admissible material or evidence before the Court to validate the financial claim. Give the Judge enough rope to hang the Respondents, metaphorically speaking.
(Dele Igbinedion Esquire, is the Principal Partner of ‘Dele Igbinedion Chambers’ in Lagos, Abuja and Benin City. He can be reached on Tel/WhatsApp 08059863558)