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Court Orders CBN To Pay German National N63.7 Million, $10,000 Over Unlawful Arrest and Detention

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The Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to compensate a German national, Martin Gegenheimer, the sums of ₦63.7m and $10,000 for unlawful arrest and detention by the Nigerian Immigration Service during the COVID-19 period in 2020.

The court ordered the Apex Bank to pay the award in his favour to the ECOWAS Court in a suit marked ECW/CCJ/APP/23/2020.

The ECOWAS Court on March 4, 2021, issued a judgment in Gegenheimer’s favour, declaring his arrest and detention illegal.

The regional court ordered the Nigerian government to pay him ₦53,650,925 as special damages for various losses suffered and costs incurred while under unlawful arrest and detention by the NIS.

The court also ordered the Nigerian government to pay him another N10m in general damages as reparation for all violations and moral prejudice suffered, and an additional $10,000 for the expenditure incurred by the applicant to secure his bail.

Gegenheimer told the ECOWAS Court that the Nigerian Immigration seized his passport, and detained him in an overcrowded facility between February 23, 2020, and March 4, 2020.

According to him; he was denied decent food and medical attention, and he was not informed of any justifiable legal reason for his arrest and detention, neither was a warrant of arrest nor a court order produced as the basis for his humiliating experience.

The German national alleged that he was not afforded the opportunity of a fair hearing before any lawful authority or competent court until March 4, 2020, when an administrative bail was secured for him in the face of the pending COVID-19 lockdown in Abuja.

Ruling on the matter on Thursday, Justice Inyang Ekwo ordered the CBN to deduct the amount from the Federal Government’s funds in its custody to settle the debt owed to the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

Justice Ekwo rejected CBN’s claim that the Federal Government’s foreign exchange accounts were currently in deficit, making it impossible to pay the entire judgment sum.

He held that as against the argument by the CBN, the ECOWAS Court’s judgments did not qualify as foreign judgments in the strict sense and could be enforced by Nigerian courts.

The judge said: “Upon a keen perusal of the provisions of the Foreign Judgments Reciprocal Enforcement Act 2004, it cannot be said that the judgment sought to be enforced in this case is stricto sensu (in the strict sense) a foreign judgment.

“I agree with the learned counsel for the judgment creditor that by Article 15 of the Reviewed Treaty of ECOWAS, and Article 24 of the 2005 Supplementary Protocol (which amended the 1991 Protocol), the judgment of ECOWAS Court can be registered and enforced in Nigeria by this court without referring to it as a foreign judgment, in the same manner, that the judgment of any other court in Nigeria can be registered and enforced in this court.”

Justice Ekwo proceeded to make absolute the garnishee order he earlier issued against the CBN.

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