Court Adjourns MRA’s Lawsuit on Enforcement of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa

Ms Obioma Okonkwo, Legal Head, MRA

A Federal High Court  in Lagos, presided over by Justice Peter Lifu, has again adjourned hearing to February 23, 2024 in a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), over the failure of the Nigerian government to take concrete actions to ensure the safety of journalists and to enforce 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 establish the binding nature of the Declaration of Principles within Nigeria’s legal framework. It also highlights the enforceability of the outlined principles, emphasizing the need for concrete actions by the Nigerian government to protect journalists and uphold the principles of the Declaration.

MRA urged the Nigerian Government to fulfill its duty of protecting journalists and media practitioners. This involves investigating attacks against them, upholding Principle 20, and demonstrating a steadfast commitment to establishing a safe and secure environment for journalists and media workers.

Ms Okonkwo, further argued and pointed out the breaches of the Declaration and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. She emphasized that the government’s inaction contradicts its statutory obligations, endangering journalists and impeding the public’s right to access information through various media channels.

The lawsuit additionally requests the court to issue precise directives, encompassing measures to prevent attacks, prosecute individuals accountable for assaults on journalists, offer effective remedies for victims, promote awareness regarding the significance of journalist safety, and bolster the capability of media professionals and policymakers to establish more secure environments for journalists.

Initially set for October 19, 2022, the court proceedings were postponed owing to the AGF’s nonattendance and the absence of legal representation on his behalf. Subsequent hearings faced several delays, experiencing reschedules to April 3, 2023 (subsequently deferred due to the Easter vacation), and June 29, 2023 (deferred due to the Id el Kabir public holiday). Despite rescheduling for November 3, 2023, the court did not sit, resulting in the current adjournment to February 23, 2024 for hearing.