The ECOWAS court has delivered judgment in a suit filed by an aircraftwoman who was raped by her superior officer, Flight Lieutenant B. S. Vibelko, and dismissed from the Nigerian Air Force after she lodged a complaint.
The court awarded $200,000 (N90 million) to the applicant (name withheld) on Friday and mandated the Air Force to investigate and prosecute Vibelko for the rape of the victim.
The applicant had accused one of her superiors, Vibelko, of drugging and raping her on May 17, 2011, sued him and the Air Force, Chief of Air Staff, and Attorney-General of the Federation for her unlawful dismissal.
Until her illegal dismissal in 2015, the court held that the applicant was an aircraftwoman in the Nigeria Air Force. She was enlisted into the Nigerian Air Force on August 15, 2010, with Service No NAF10/25157F. She had put in over five years of active and meritorious service before her persistent victimisation, culminating in her dismissal.
In a judgement delivered on Friday, Justice Dupe Atoki, who read the judgement, described the applicant’s experience as “undeserving of a human being”.
She held that “the brutal rape of the applicant is beastly, undeserving of a human being, and the failure of the Nigerian Air Force to investigate and punish its perpetrator is a show of impunity by the Air Force and the Nigerian authorities.
“The Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian authorities are hereby ordered to arrest, investigate and prosecute the perpetrator… what amount of money is enough to compensate a teenager gruesomely raped by her superiors on her way to womanhood.”
The court further ordered that her dismissal be converted to retirement with attendant benefits. The court ordered that the applicant be paid $200,000 (about N90 million) as compensation and a report of compliance be submitted by the Nigerian authorities within three months of being served notice of judgement.
The Applicant was represented by her counsel, Marshal Abubakar.
The applicant had narrated that she “was sexually assaulted and brutally raped and deflowered by her superior officer in the Nigerian Air force, one Flight Lieutenant B. S Vibelko”.
Attached to the suit were medical reports confirming the rape and breach of virginity.
The Applicant in the suit further narrated that she made a frantic effort to resist the rape but the said Flight Lieutenant B.S. Vibelko overpowered her, hitting her head against the wall several times in the process, after which she eventually fainted while he had his way.
The suit filed by her counsel further stated, “The Applicant avers that subsequent upon the fact deposed to above, on May 18, 2011, at about 12;00hrs. GMT, she woke up to find herself on admission at the accident and emergency ward in 345 Aeromedical Hospital Kaduna.
“The Applicant further avers that as a result, her health suffered greatly, physically and in status and she contacted severe sexually transmitted infections which resulted into chronic pelvic inflammatory disease growing solid mass close to her uterus.
“The Applicant further avers that resulting from the foregoing; she suffered constant intermittent fainting, severe discharge, chronic lower abdominal pains, dizziness and swollen vulva.
“The Applicant further avers that her male superiors in the Nigeria Air force rather than investigate and mete out appropriate sanctions subjected her to unprecedented intimidation, victimisation and threat to her life.
“The Applicant avers that she was often locked up in the guardroom for no reason, placed on constant punishment duties constantly accused and put through various degrees of punishment, imprisonment with hard labour, often dragged on the ground and beaten to the point of comatose whilst nude with bruises all over her body.
“The Applicant avers that she received several death threats from several officers of the Nigerian Air Force who threatened to kill her for daring to expose an officer of the Nigerian Air Force for raping her.
“The Applicant further avers that a regimental entry was made into her file stating that she should never be promoted with her colleagues up until her unlawful dismissal, which was dutifully carried out. The Applicant avers that she sighted the said regimental entry in the Personnel Management Group (PMG), Sam Ethnan Base, Ikeja, Lagos.”
According to her, from September 28, 2015, to October 1, 2015, she served various unjustifiable rifle punishment ordered by Squadron leader Ilori, the OC provost, “for daring to report the rape incident”.
She said on October 1, 2015, she was diagnosed with severe high fever upon which she was required to report to the hospital but that Squadron Leader Ilori mandated her to stay on at the guard post. But she said shortly after, she suffered severe dehydration, fainted and had to be revived after a quick first aid treatment.
But as soon as she opened her eyes around 8 pm, she was ordered by her superiors to immediately go back to her duty post in line with the established military rule of ‘obey before complaint’, she said.
She narrated how she was also verbally and physically assaulted by one Flight Lieutenant, after which she was detained in a cell for ten days from October 1, 2015 – October 10, 2015, without food.
According to her, she was also later locked up by Squadron Leader Ejiga and was subjected to “severe beating, torture, degrading treatment” in the cell.
She also narrated how she regained consciousness in the hospital after one of the sessions of abuses she suffered, only to find that her hand had been cuffed to the hospital bed.
The applicant had medical reports and photographs of when she looked critically ill to support her claims before the court.
Among other things sought from the court, the applicant had asked for a declaration that the “dismissal of the Applicant as a soldier in the Nigerian Air Force by the Defendant without arraignment, prosecution and sentence by a duly constituted Court Martial is irregular, illegal, unlawful, null and void whatsoever as to the act of the Defendant herein constitute a violation of the Applicant’s Fundamental Rights to fair hearing as stated in the provisions of SECTION 36 (1), (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) Third Alteration Act, Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Articles 8, 10, 11 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
It sought an order of the court to compel the “Defendant, its agents, organs, servants, privies or by whatever name called to pay over to the Applicant her monthly salary and other allowances from the month such sum is last paid until the date judgment is enforced in this suit”.
It also sought an order directing the “DefendantDefendant, their agents, organs, privies, servants or by whatever name called to pay over to the Applicant the sum of $10 000 000. 00 (about N4.5 billion) only as general damages for the physical, psychological and mental torture suffered by the Applicant due to the various human rights violations she was subjected to by the defendant.
“An order of this Honourable Court compelling the defendant, its agents, organs, servants, privies or by whatever name called to pay over to the Applicant the sum of $20, 000,000.00 (about N9 billion) only as aggravated and punitive damages that will serve as a deterrent to the defendant.
“An order of this Honourable Court directing the defendant to pay over to the Applicant the sum of $500 000.00 (about N225 million) only being the solicitor’s fees and other incidental costs.
“An order of this Honourable Court directing the Defendant, its agents, organs, servants, privies or by whatever name called to immediately reinstate the Applicant to the rank her contemporaries in the Nigeria Air force currently occupies,” the document stated.