Whether Locus Standi is Required for a Public Interest Litigation Under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Rules, 2009

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CASE TITLE: HUMAN RIGHTS & EMPOWERMENT PROJECT LTD/GTE v. PRESIDENT OF FRN & ORS (2022) LPELR-58230(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: FRIDAY, 15TH JULY, 2022

JUSTICES:

  • HARUNA SIMON TSAMMANI, JCA
  • ELFRIEDA OLUWAYEMISI WILLIAMS-DAWODU, JCA
  •  ABRAHAM GEORGEWILL, JCA

COURT DIVISION: ENUGU

PRACTICE AREA: ENFORCEMENT OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS 

FACTS:

The Appellant as Applicant before the trial Court had alleged that on 25/4/2016, numerous armed Fulani herdsmen invaded Nimbo Ngwoko, Ugwuijoro, Ekwuru, Ebor, Enugu – Nimbo, Umuome and Ugwuachara all in Nimbo village of Uzouwani Local Government Area of Enugu State and murdered several residents and torched several residential houses and public buildings. That prior to this attack, members of Nimbo community, being apprehensive of an imminent attack, had reported their fears to the Police Authorities, which promptly deployed Police Officers to the area, who were quickly withdrawn despite the plea of the residents. As feared, no sooner had the Police withdrawn than the Community was attacked.

The Appellant, a Non – Governmental Organization, then instituted an action to enforce the infringement and or violation of the right to life of the victims as a result of extra-judicial killing carried out by the armed Fulani herdsmen for the failure of the Respondents to protect the lives and properties of the victims as well as Residents of Nimo Community.

The Respondents denied the allegations and challenged the competence of the Application filed by the Appellant on several grounds, including lack of locus standi, and that the reliefs claimed do not fall under the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) but rather fall under the purview of Chapter II of the Constitution of the Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which are not justiciable, and thereby rendered the Appellant’s Suit incompetent.

The trial Court delivered its judgment, in which it upheld the preliminary objection of the 1st – 2nd Respondents challenging the competence of the Appellant’s Suit and thereby dismissed same.

Dissatisfied, the Appellants appealed.

ISSUES:

The appeal was determined upon consideration of the issues thus:

  1. Whether the lower Court was correct in holding that the Appellant has no locus standi to bring the Application?
  2. Whether the lower Court was correct in raising suo motu the issue of the extent of the CJN’s powers to make the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009 and ruling on the same without inviting Counsel to address him on that issue?
  3. Whether the lower Court was correct in holding that the Appellant’s claim falls within the prohibited Section of the Constitution which ousts the jurisdiction of the Court?
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COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS

Appellant submitted among other things that in an application for the enforcement of fundamental rights of the citizen, the issue of locus standi has been done away with and contended that the Appellant, as a human rights Non-Governmental Organization whose core mandate is the promotion, defense and protection of human rights, is by law empowered to institute and maintain this Suit against the Respondent as a Public interest litigation as provided by the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 and urged the Court to hold that the trial Court was wrong when it held that the Appellant lacked the locus standi to institute and maintain the suit.

The Respondents submitted that the trial Court was right in holding that the Appellant has not established any interest in the matter which robbed the Court of the requisite jurisdiction to adjudicate over the matter.

DECISION/HELD

The Court resolved the issue of locus standi in favour of the Appellant. The other two issues were resolved against the Appellant and the appeal was therefore dismissed.

RATIO

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW- ENFORCEMENT OF FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT(S): Meaning of public interest; whether locus standi is required to bring a public interest litigation under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009

“what is public interest within the meaning of the provisions of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 and was the Appellant’s Suit one within the contemplation of a ‘public interest litigation’ By Order 1 Rule 2 of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, ‘Public Interest’ is defined as including:

“The interest of Nigerian society or any segment of it in promoting human rights and advancing human rights law.” My Lords, looking at the facts of this case in respect of the capacity and core mandate of the Appellant, which were largely unchallenged, and having considered the succinct provisions of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, and keeping in mind the preamble to the said Rules, it does appear to me, and I so hold, that in application for the enforcement of fundamental rights of the citizen under Chapter IV of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and by virtue of the provisions of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, the general requirement of locus standi has indeed been done away. Thus, the Appellant an undisputed human rights Non – Governmental Organization with the core mandate of promoting, defending and protecting human rights of the citizens of this country, through public interest litigation etc., is in my finding and I so firmly hold, empowered by law pursuant to the provisions of Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, to institute and maintain this Suit against the Respondent as a Public interest litigation for the enforcement of the Fundamental rights of the members and residents of Nimo Village. After all, for a better society to take root in this country, we must all begin, if we are not yet, to be our brothers and sisters’ keepers! See Fawehinmi V. Akilu (1987) 4 NWLR (Pt. 67) 797, where the Supreme Court per Obaseki JSC, had reiterated succinctly inter alia thus: “Since we are all brothers in the society, we are our brother’s keepers. If we pause a little and cast our minds to the happenings in the world, the rationale for this rule will become apparent.”

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See also Order 1 Rule 2 of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, Paragraph 3 (e) of the Preamble to the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, Fawehinmi V. The President (2008) 23 WRN 65 My Lords, carefully reading through the provisions of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, particularly Paragraph 3 (e) of the Preamble to the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, the more it becomes apparent to me that it has in matters of enforcement of the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) clearly and legally expanded the frontiers of public interest litigation in Nigeria for the protection and enforcement of the fundamental rights of the Citizen. I therefore cannot but agree with the apt and unassailable submission of learned counsel for the Appellant, subject however to my consideration later of the subject matter of the Appellant’s Suit as to whether the claims are founded on alleged infringement of any of the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), that in public interest litigation for the enforcement of fundamental rights of the citizen there is in law no longer any need for any express permission, authorization or consent from either the victim of human right abuse or his relatives to validate an application for the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights as constitutionally guaranteed to the citizens. See Section 46 (1 – 3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). It is therefore very clear to me, and I so firmly hold, that the lower Court had, despite the clear provisions of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 reducing to non-existence the requirement of locus standi as it operates and governs other civil proceedings in proceedings for enforcement of any of the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), unwittingly insisted on the application of the concept of locus standi in proceedings for the enforcement of Chapter IV of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) contrary to the very clear and unambiguous provisions of the governing rules of procedure. I think that was a grave error on the part of the lower Court, and must have resulted from the failure to appreciate that the procedure for enforcement of Chapter IV of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is a special procedure unique to only this procedure and none other. In other words, the provisions of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Rules) 2009 governs exclusively the proceedings in action for the enforcement of Chapter IV of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

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It follows therefore, whatever procedure is validated under the said Rules is valid and should be given effect to by the Court for the enforcement and protection of the fundamental rights of the citizen. The lower Court, regrettably missed this point when it proceeded to dismiss the Appellant’s Suit merely on account of locus standi contrary to the provisions of the said Rules which validates public interest litigation for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the citizen either by themselves or on their behalf. The Appellant’s Suit was therefore, not rendered incompetent by reason of lack of locus standi as the Appellant is clothed with the requisite locus standi to institute and maintain the Suit against the Respondents.” Per GEORGEWILL, J.C.A.

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