By Alex Enumah in Abuja
A Federal High Court in Abuja has declared as illegal and unconstitutional, the deportation of 47 Cameroonians from Nigeria on January 26, 2018.
The presiding judge of the court, Justice Anwuli Chikere, also granted all the reliefs as prayed for by the key Cameroonian separatist leader, Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, president of the self-declared “Republic of Ambazonia”, who was arrested along with his supporters on January 9 by Nigerian intelligence agents at their hotels in Abuja on January 7, 2018, while they were assembled for a meeting.
They were subsequently detained at an underground detention centre in Abuja without access to their families, lawyers and doctors.
The group was deported to Cameroon on January 26, and Ayuk Tabe was put on trial for “terrorism” in December at a military court in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital.
The move was denounced by United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, which said most of them had filed asylum claims and accused Nigeria of breaching international agreements.
They approached the court through two separate suits with number FHC/ABJ/CS/ 85/ 2018 and FHC/ABJ/CS/ 147/ 2018, respectively.
At the hearing, their lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), argued that the arrest and detention of refugees and asylum seekers constituted a breach of Nigeria’s Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In her judgment, Justice Chikere agreed with the counsel representing the applicants, Femi Falana, saying that the Nigerian government lacks the power to deport refugees and asylum seekers from the country.
The judge said the expulsion of the group was in “utter violation” of legal obligations which ban Nigeria “from expelling or deporting refugees” from the country.
She ordered the government to ensure they were brought back to Nigeria, and that their fundamental rights be respected.
The judge, however, granted all the reliefs sought in both suits and awarded N5 million to each of the applicants in the first suit, while in the second suit granted N200,000 to each of the applicants.
Ayuk, the president of a self-declared Ambazonia State, made up of English-speaking part of Cameroon, was one of 15 people whom Cameroon issued an international arrest warrant for in November 2017.
Since their deportation, the 47 have been held in a secret high-security facility at police headquarters in Yaounde.