It has been over six years since some Professors of Nigerian universities were kidnapped at Nera Hotel in Abuja. They were meeting to discuss the welfare of Cameroonian refugees who had fled to Nigerian territory, when they were kidnapped at gun point by 20- armed men on 5th January 2018. The academics were handcuffed and held in an underground detention facility of the Department of State Services (DSS) for 20 days.

 Later, they were repatriated to Cameroon, with the assistance of the administration of the then-President Muhammadu Buhari, despite the fact that they were legally resident in Nigeria as refugees and registered asylum seekers.

In Cameroon, they were brought before a military tribunal, tried in French, even though they were English speaking, with no provision of a translator, and sentenced to life imprisonment at the Kondengui Maximum Security detention facility and a fine of US$525 million.  This action has been widely criticised globally.

A Federal High Court in Abuja on March 1st, 2019, and November 28th, 2019 recognized the violations of their rights. The judge ruled that the state must pay N5 million to each detainee for violating their fundamental rights, including the right to life, dignity, fair hearing, health, freedom of movement, and association.  Additionally, N200,000 in damages was awarded for deportation. The court issued a perpetual injunction against further violations and ordered the deportees’ return to Nigeria promptly.

 The UN Human Rights Special Procedures Working Group based in Geneva, Switzerland earlier called on the government of Cameroon to release them. Because of the violation of their human rights citing that “the manner in which the complainants were arrested, detained in Nigeria, transferred to Cameroon, detained, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment violated various international laws to which both Cameroon and Nigeria are signatories to.”

The Group also asked that Cameroon and Nigeria remedy the situation and “accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.”

Heather Nauert, the US Department of State spokesperson, emphasized that the actions of Nigeria and Cameroon violated the detainees’ rights by forcibly repatriating them. She urged both governments to adhere to their international obligations and refrain from such actions. Many rights groups have criticized the imprisonment, calling for their release but years down the line they are still in detention.

 Ogaba Oga, a legal practitioner, explains that refugees in Nigeria are afforded various legal rights through both national and international instruments. The National Refugee Commission Act of 1989 establishes fundamental protections, including non-refoulement, access to basic needs like food and shelter, the right to work and education within national regulations, and freedom of movement within Nigeria.

 Internationally, Nigeria is bound by the Refugee Convention of 1951, which reinforces these rights. Besides, refugees are protected under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Comfort Yakubu, Abuja 

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