Court Fixes February 14 for Judgment in MRA’s Suit challenging Constitutionality of ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill’

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Mrs. Mojirayo Nkanga, MRA’s Counsel

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has set February 14, 2024, for judgment in a suit instituted by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the National Assembly and the Federal Government of Nigeria challenging the constitutionality of the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill, otherwise known as the Social Media Bill, and the attempt to pass it into Law.

Named as respondents in the suit initiated on March 20, 2020, by Mrs. Mojirayo Nkanga, a human rights and free expression lawyer on behalf of MRA, are the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, and the Attorney General of the Federation.

Brought pursuant to the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2019, sections 39 and 46 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended; Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, MRA is asking the court for the following:
• A declaration that the legislative reading of the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the National Assembly, Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, and Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, and the attempt to pass the Bill into law is illegal and unconstitutional as provisions of the bill violate MRA’s fundamental right to freedom of expression and the press as guaranteed by section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter;
• A declaration that the legislative reading and attempt to pass the Bill into law is illegal and unconstitutional as provisions of the bill are likely to violate MRA’s fundamental right to freedom of expression and the press as guaranteed by sections 39 and 46 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter;
• A declaration that the deliberations of the Senate and the House of Representatives, committee meetings, and public hearings on the Bill with the aim of passing it into law is illegal and unconstitutional as provisions of the bill are likely to violate MRA’s fundamental right to freedom of expression and the press as guaranteed by section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter;
• A perpetual injunction restraining all them, their agents, officers and/or representatives from further consideration, giving effect and/or passing the Bill into law as its provisions violate the extant provisions of section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter; and
• A perpetual injunction restraining all of them, their agents, officers and/or representatives from further deliberations, meetings and/or reading of the Bill with the intention of passing it into law as its provisions violate the extant provisions of section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter.

The suit experienced multiple adjournments, starting on November 12, 2020, when the case was first slated for mention following the exchange of all relevant documents and the filing of preliminary objections by the respondents. In response, MRA also filed its counterarguments. Subsequently, the court adjourned the proceedings to February 19, 2021, for mention.

On February 19, 2021, during the court proceedings, MRA’s motion to regularize the already-filed processes was heard, prompting an adjournment of the case to March 19, 2021, for the adoption of all processes. At that juncture, the presiding judge specified that, all processes would be considered adopted, and after adoption, the case would be set aside for judgment. The case was subsequently adjourned as follows: October 14, 2021, December 8, 2021, February 16, 2022, April 7, 2022, May 31, 2022, July 14, 2022, November 9, 2022, February 23, 2023, June 8, 2023, and November 23, 2023. The scheduled hearing on June 1, 2021, did not materialize due to the industrial strike embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), setting off a series of subsequent adjournments in the legal proceedings.

On November 23, 2023, when the case was scheduled for a hearing, MRA was represented by Mrs. Mojirayo, who presented the case and adopted all the filed processes on behalf of MRA. Notably, only the President of the Senate was present in court during these proceedings. After carefully considering Mrs. Mojirayo’s arguments and submissions, the court decided to consider all processes filed by the respondents as adopted. In a decisive turn, the court then reserved February 14, 2024, for judgment in the matter.