Francis Chigozie Moneke, esq. LLM (London) Executive Director, HREP gets landmark victory over Lagos state sanitation

On the 23rd day of November, 2016 Lagos State Government officially announced immediate cancellation of the monthly environmental sanitation exercise held every last Saturday of the month between the hours of 7am and 10am, which usually restricted movement of persons during the exercise.
This action by Lagos State Government though commendable, was not a deliberate initiative by that government but the outcome or result of a four year long, hard fought legal battle between Lagos State Government and Human Rights & Empowerment Project Ltd/Gte (HREP). Now, HREP is an NGO that uses the law as a tool for social change through robust advocacy and impactful public interest/human rights litigation.  In line with the aforesaid core objective, HREP in 2013 through its ebullient Senior Counsel, Ikenna Okoli, esq. with Uche Obiorah, esq. challenged the arrest, detention, summary trial, conviction and imposition of N2, 000 fine against an innocent citizen by name Faith Okafor purportedly for moving about during sanitation exercise in Lagos State on 25th May, 2013.
In a fundamental rights enforcement action filed by the aforesaid counsel of HREP at the Lagos State High Court, the Court was urged to declare that the arrest, hauling into a Black-maria and detention of the said Faith Okafor violated her fundamental rights to dignity of human person, personal liberty and freedom of movement guaranteed under Sections 34, 35 and 41 respectively of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), and relevant provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act. The Court was further prayed to declare that the summary trial of Faith Okafor by the Special Offences Tribunal without any opportunity for an effective legal representation violated her right to fair hearing also guaranteed by Section 36 of the said 1999 Constitution. Finally, the Court was prayed for an order compelling Lagos State Govt. to refund the N2,000 fine to the Applicant and to pay her the sum of N5,000,000 in compensation as exemplary damages. The High Court in its Ruling dismissed the Application on grounds that the Directive of Lagos State Govt. restricting movement during environmental exercise was justifiable under subsection 2 of Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution.
HREP was aggrieved by this Ruling, and still through the tireless and cerebral legal prowess of the same counsel – Ikenna Okoli, esq. and Uche Obiorah, esq. – an appeal was immediately lodged at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal against the Ruling of the Lagos State High Court. The Appeal numbered as CA/1106/2014 was robustly defended by Lagos State Government with a voluminous Respondents’ Brief filed by the Attorney General of Lagos State, who was himself the 2nd Respondent in the matter. When the Appeal came up for hearing, the Attorney General of Lagos State led a retinue of lawyers in his Ministry to adopt the Respondents’ Brief of Argument, while Ikenna Okoli leading Uche Obiorah adopted the Brief of the Appellant.
November 4th, 2016 was the D-day, when the Court of Appeal coram Dauda Bage JCA, Abraham Georgewill JCA and Ugochukwu Ogakwu JCA in a unanimous decision upturned and rubbished the Ruling of the Lagos State High Court on the matter. In his lead Judgment in that landmark, progressive and unprecedented decision, Ugochukwu Ogakwu JCA beautifully redefined and amplified the scope and ambit of the right to Freedom of Movement enshrined under Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution. His Lordship held that a directive of Lagos State Government restricting movement on sanitation days was not remotely justifiable under S.41 (2) of the Constitution, since that subsection relates only to laws made for purposes of restricting any person who has committed or is reasonably suspected of having committed a criminal offence from leaving Nigeria, or for removing any person to be tried or to undergo imprisonment for a criminal offence in another country, which has a reciprocal agreement with Nigeria. The Court of Appeal further held that the Environmental Sanitation Law relied upon by the Respondents and the lower Court was a repealed law, and therefore that the purported conviction of the Appellant ran afoul of Section 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that a person shall not be convicted of an offence, unless such offence is defined and punishment thereof prescribed under a written law.
In the final analysis, the Court of Appeal set aside the conviction of the Appellant as unconstitutional, and cast the decision of the Lagos State High Court into the doldrums of things forgotten and thing past, with the profound declaration that restriction of movement during environmental sanitation exercise is null, void and unconstitutional being a gross violation of the sacrosanct right to freedom of movement guaranteed to all law abiding citizens of Nigeria.
HREP is elated at this scintillating, erudite, progressive and pacesetting decision of the Court of Appeal. We commend and eulogize the awesome intellectual sophistication that went into the grafting of that landmark and unprecedented decision that has pushed the envelope in human rights jurisprudence in Nigeria. For we at HREP, this is a major achievement in our years of tireless effort at effecting positive social changes in Nigeria through the courts. We are immensely thankful to our senior Counsel Ikenna Okoli and Uche Obiorah for toiling indefatigably through the law books and courts over these past four years to realize this significant development in Nigerian law and jurisprudence.
We also commend the Lagos State Government for broadmindedly accepting and embracing the decision of the Court of Appeal, having realized that the idea or policy of restricting movement of persons on the flimsy excuse of sanitation exercise, besides being a violation of a constitutional right, is indeed backward and counterproductive. The practice of restricting movement for purposes of sanitation exercise is alien to every civilized country of the world. Similarly, the practice of closing shops on Thursdays between 7am and 10am for sanitation exercise will inevitably also fall within this purview. Sanitation is a daily routine that should not be relegated to only one day in a month. Government must make sanitation a priority by enacting adequate laws to ensure that the roads, streets, markets, public and private premises are kept in utmost sanitary conditions at all times. Government must therefore promote an orientation and put in place an effective framework that are conducive to clean and healthy environment. People must develop the habit of keeping their environments clean at all times, and government must ensure that wastes are effectively gathered and disposed of regularly. There should be a Task Force that would constantly monitor the sanitary conditions of public and private environments, and to impose appropriate fines or orders where such environments are found to be in filthy conditions. These and more are some of the issues that should be addressed with a good Environmental Sanitation Law. It is cheering that Lagos State Government has indicated an intention to embark on reform of its Environmental Sanitation legal regime. HREP is willing and ready to collaborate with Lagos State Government on it proposed Environmental Sanitation law reform, with a view to devising a law that meets international benchmarks on environmental sanitation.
Finally, it is our sincere hope that this development in Lagos State will resonate in every part of the country, and that other State Governments will follow suit in cancelling the monthly sanitation exercise, to then put in place effective laws and/or policies that would make environmental sanitation some sort of an entrenched tradition in the collective consciousness of the people. Where any State Government fails or neglects to tow this line, citizens are called upon to ignore any restriction of movement and go about their normal activities so long as they endeavour to keep their surroundings clean. Any citizen who is restricted or apprehended in any part of the country on account of moving around during sanitation exercise should contact HREP or otherwise file an action at the High Court to challenge such restriction or arrest. The decision of the Court of Appeal on this matter is binding on all States of the Federation and no High Court of any State can depart from it except in the unlikely event that the decision is subsequently upturned by the Supreme Court.
Thank you. God bless Lagos State, and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Francis Chigozie Moneke, esq. LLM (London)
Executive Director, HREP
Francis Chigozie Moneke, esq. LLM (London) Executive Director, HREP gets landmark victory over Lagos state sanitation Francis Chigozie Moneke, esq. LLM (London) Executive Director, HREP gets landmark victory over Lagos state sanitation Reviewed by Unknown on Saturday, December 10, 2016 Rating: 5

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