Nigerian Lawsuit Seeks $200 Billion to Cover COVID-19 Damages
A diverse group of Nigerian plaintiffs has sued China for $200 billion over damages caused by the spread of COVID-19, believed to have originated in a Chinese wet market in late 2019. As of mid-July, the disease had sickened nearly 33,200 Nigerians and killed almost 750, while also igniting a financial crisis.
The group composed partially of lawyers, foreign exchange operators and tourism professionals, alleges that Chinese officials failed to contain COVID-19 and inform the World Health Organization of discoveries made about the disease caused by a new coronavirus — a violation of international law — that led to a global pandemic.
Defendants include the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The suit made headlines even before it was filed in July by a team of Senior Advocates of Nigeria led by attorney Epiphany Azinge.
“In April, we hinted of our intention to sue China,” Azinge wrote in an email. “In May, we couriered our Demand Notice to China. Both the Presidential office in China and Chinese Embassy in Abuja refused to take delivery of our documents. On Monday, 6th July, we filed our class action at The High Court of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The case has since been assigned to a court.”
Shehu Bello, a plaintiff representing foreign exchange traders, said the industry was completely shut down in Nigeria over the pandemic.
“Most of the operators lost their capital because of the pandemic and with the easing of restrictions are witnessing a volatility of the market leading to a decline in investment,” Bello told This Day, a Nigerian newspaper.
The group may have a long wait for an official response to the complaint because there is no mechanism under international law that can force China into a Nigerian court. Some suits of this type regarding environmental damage due to negligence have been heard at the International Court of Justice.
Chinese officials have dismissed widespread calls for financial relief over its handling of the disease and have denounced the Nigerian lawsuit as “shoddy” and “frivolous.”
Azinge, the attorney leading Nigeria’s legal claim, is not deterred.
“Legal actions are not sentimental matters that warrant reckless comments,” he told ADF. “Only the court can determine if a case is frivolous or otherwise. We await China in court.”
The lawsuit was filed as Nigerians fear that a second wave of COVID-19 will crash on the country. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in early July said that the nation recorded 60% of its total COVID-19 cases in June, the same month it recorded the highest number of deaths related to the virus.
Among those who died were Isiaka Ajimobi, former governor of Oyo State; Sen. Adebayo Osinowo, who represented Lagos East Senatorial District; and Dan Foster, an acclaimed announcer.
The current crisis is not the first worldwide pandemic born in China.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged in late 2002 in China’s Guangdong province. SARS, which killed fewer than 800 people worldwide, is believed to have been transmitted to humans from animals held in a wet market.
In 1997, the bird flu emerged in Hong Kong, killing six people that year. When the disease resurfaced in Southeast Asia six years later, it spread to 15 countries and killed nearly 300 people.
The Hong Kong flu was first discovered in the Chinese city it was named after in 1968. Considered the first pandemic of modern times, it eventually spread to the United States and Europe, claiming between 1 million and 4 million lives by 1970, according to estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 1957, the Asian flu was first found in southwestern China and eventually spread throughout the world, killing 1.1 million people.
Since COVID-19 was discovered in Wuhan, China, in November 2019, it has spread to all corners of the world, sickening more than 13 million people and killing nearly 575,000 as of mid-July, according to Johns Hopkins University.