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ECOWAS Court orders Niger to compensate Nigerian firm

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The ECOWAS Court of Justice has ordered the Republic of Niger to pay 5,787,456,482 CFA in special damages to a company for the withdrawal of its license to administer five schools it constructed in the country and the transfer of the schools to a foreign third party which were then renamed without notifying or paying compensation to the company.

Delivering judgment on Wednesday, 1 July 2020, in suit no ECW/CCJ/APP/09/17 filed by La Société BEDIR SARL against the government of Niger, the presiding Judge, Justice Dupe Atoki also ordered the government to pay another 517, 577, 500 CFA Francs to the company for the furniture in the schools.

However, the Court dismissed all other reliefs sought by the plaintiff. The Court had earlier dismissed the preliminary objection of the defendant challenging the appropriateness of the plaintiff’s appearance before the Court and the plaintiff’s application contending that the defendant filed its defence out of time.

A statement by the Court on Thursday in Abuja said that Justice Atoki added that although the right to own property is not absolute, interference must be in the public interest or general interest of the community and in accordance with the law but that the defendant did not articulate/establish actions of the plaintiff that violated the State’s 1996 Decree regulating schools in Niger.

Moreover, the Court said the defendant did not submit a report of the inspection of the school premises to the plaintiff to enable it to respond in accordance with the provision of the 1996 Decree which is the defendant’s alleged basis for the withdrawal of the plaintiff’s licence.

The Court also observed that the defendant had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the third party on the property months before the withdrawal of the plaintiff’s licence without notification and compensation, amounting to an abuse of power, arbitrariness, and disregard for rule of law.

In the initiating application filed before the Court on 6 February 2017, the plaintiff through its counsel, Moussa Ismaril Tambo, submitted that the plaintiff, BEDIR SARL, a limited liability company duly registered in Niger for the purpose of the administration and management of schools, was granted authorisation by the defendant to manage five schools on the basis of which they were built and furnished.

The plaintiff further claimed that despite its huge investments and academic excellence, the defendant withdrew the plaintiff’s licence on 28 December 2016 on allegation of violation of the conditions for granting authorisation and the plaintiff’s refusal for an inspection of the school premises.

The plaintiff alleged that the withdrawal of its licence and immediate transfer of its investment to the third party to administer and the change of the school’s name to “Ecole de l’Amitie Nigero-Turque (on 2 January 2017) was premeditated going by the content of the MOU between the defendant and the third party.

Relying on Article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right and Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the plaintiff claimed its right to own property had been violated by the defendant and sought orders of the Court for the payment of 24,305,033,982 CFA Francs for the prejudice suffered and additional 250,000,000 CFA Francs to cover other costs.

But the defendant in its submission urged the Court to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked the legal personality to approach the Court. The defendant added that the plaintiff did not comply with various conditions for licencing as stated in its 1996 Decree on the establishment and opening of schools in Niamey.

Also on the panel were Honorable Justices Keikura Bangura and Januaria T.S. Moreira Costa.

The Court also adjourned to July 8, 2020, to enable it to hear both parties in a case brought by a former staff of ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) seeking the revision of its judgment of 3rd February 2020

In the judgment, the Court held the defendant (EBID) liable for the arbitrary and unfair termination of the plaintiff’s appointment without according him a fair hearing and awarded damages in the sum of USD 75,000 in favour of the plaintiff for the unfair termination and another two million Nigerian Naira as cost of litigation.

However, the Court dismissed all other claims sought by the plaintiff and ordered the plaintiff to return all properties of the defendant in his possession.

Both parties were to comply with the orders of the Court within one month. But the plaintiff through his counsel, Femi Falana, filed suit no. ECW/CCJ/APP/SUPP/40/17 on 10 February 2020, seeking a review and a supplementary judgment of the Court.

In the present suit, the plaintiff is urging the Court to among others, compel the defendant to also pay other outstanding bills including medical reimbursements, his accrued emoluments before the wrongful termination of his employment, and his outstanding pension contribution owed the pension administrator arising from the termination of his employment.

The statement said that three-member panel adjudicating the matter comprised Honourable Justices Gberi-Be Ouattara, Keikura Bangura, and Januaria T.S. Moreira Costa.

– APA

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