Court Adjourns Hearing in MRA’s Lawsuit on Enforcement of Principles on Safety of Journalists to July 2

Ms. Obioma Okonkwo, MRA’s Head of Legal Department

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos presided over by Justice Nnamdi O. Dimgba has adjourned to July 2, 2024, for hearing, a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) challenging the Nigerian government’s failure to take concrete actions to ensure the safety of journalists in accordance with Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.

The Originating Summons, filed on July 27, 2021, by Ms. Obioma Okonkwo on behalf of MRA, seeks to affirm the legal validity of the Declaration of Principles within Nigeria’s legal system. It underscores the enforceability of these principles, emphasizing the necessity for tangible measures by the Nigerian government to safeguard journalists and uphold the principles outlined in the Declaration.

MRA had called upon the Nigerian government to fulfill its responsibility to protect journalists and media professionals. This includes conducting thorough investigations into attacks against them, adhering to Principle 20, and demonstrating unwavering commitment to creating a safe and secure environment for journalists and media workers.

Ms. Okonkwo further asserted that the government’s inaction violates both the Declaration and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. She emphasized that this failure contradicts the government’s legal duties, endangering journalists and obstructing the public’s access to information through various media outlets.

The lawsuit also seeks specific directives from the court, including measures to prevent attacks, prosecute those responsible for assaults on journalists, provide effective remedies for victims, raise awareness about the importance of journalists’ safety, and enhance the capacity of media professionals and policymakers to create safer environments for journalists.

When the matter came up for hearing on June 10, 2024, MRA was represented by Monday Arunsi, however, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) was absent and had no legal representation. Arunsi informed the court that the suit was appearing for the first time before Justice Nnamdi O. Dimgba. He also noted that following the last proceedings presided over by Justice Peter Lifu, a hearing notice had been served on the AGF, but the AGF failed to appear or send representation.

After listening to Mr. Arunsi’s submission, the court acknowledged that the case was coming up before it for the first time and noted the AGF’s absence and lack of legal representation. In the interest of justice and to give the AGF a fair opportunity to be heard, the court decided to adjourn the matter.

Arunsi requested a hearing date for the parties to adopt their respective processes, and the court subsequently adjourned the suit to July 2, 2024, for hearing. The court ordered that a hearing notice be served on the AGF before the next adjourned date.