The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has adjourned hearing to October 16, 2023, in a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) seeking to compel the Federal Government of Nigeria to properly investigate the long unresolved killings of seven journalists over the last 36 years, including the 1986 murder of the late Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, Mr. Dele Giwa, and to prosecute their killers
The suit, earlier scheduled for hearing on May 19, 2023, was adjourned at a virtual session of the Court sitting in Abuja following the absence of legal representation for the Federal Government and the fact that the court processes filed by the parties in the suit had not been translated from English to French.
In the suit filed on its behalf by Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Ms Augusta Aver Yaakugh, MRA is alleging that despite its obligation to do so, the Government has failed, refused, or neglected to effectively investigate the killings, and to prosecute and punish the killers of the journalists, who were killed while exercising their right to freedom of expression or under circumstances connected to the exercise of the right.
The suit was lodged before the Court pursuant to the provisions of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS; and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, 2019.
Besides Mr. Giwa, who was killed in a deadly explosion by a parcel delivered to him on Sunday, October 19, 1986 while he was having breakfast in his home in Lagos with a colleague, Mr. Kayode Soyinka, other journalists named in the suit are Ms Bolade Fasasi, a member of the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) and former treasurer of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), who was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Ibadan, Oyo State on March 31, 1999; and Mr. Godwin Agbroko, then Chairman of the Editorial Board of ThisDay newspaper, who was murdered by unknown gunmen while driving home from work in Lagos on December 22, 2006;
The others are Mr. Olalekan Ayo-Ojo, who was found dead beside his car on the roadside in Lagos in the early hours of June 1, 1999; Mr. Omololu Falobi, former Features Editor of the Punch newspaper as well as the founder and Executive Director of the media advocacy organization, Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS), who was shot dead on October 5, 2006; Mr. Abayomi Ogundeji, a member of the Editorial Board of ThisDay newspaper, who was shot dead in Lagos by unidentified gunmen on August 17, 2008: and Mr. Edo Sule-Ugbagwu, a Judicial Correspondent with The Nation newspaper who was gruesomely murdered in his home in Lagos on April 24, 2010.
MRA is claiming in the suit that unless the court intervenes to compel it to do so, the Government would neither adopt measures to protect journalists nor cause proper, transparent and impartial investigations into the killings of journalists in Nigeria while the perpetrators of such acts would continue to go unprosecuted and unpunished.
Specifically, MRA is seeking, among other things, the following reliefs:
- A declaration that the killing of the seven journalists is a violation of their fundamental rights to life, freedom of expression and of the press as encapsulated in the Nigerian Constitution, the African Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR;
- A declaration that the Federal Government has an obligation under Sections 33 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution; Articles 4 and 9 of the African Charter, Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles, Article 2(3) of the ICCPR, and Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty to carry out effective and impartial investigations and to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of attacks on journalists in Nigeria;
- A declaration that the failure of the Federal Government to adopt effective measures to protect and guarantee the safety of the seven journalists as well as its failure to take effective legal and other measures to adequately investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the attacks against the journalists and ensure that the victims’ families have access to effective remedies amount to a breach of the duty and obligation imposed on the Government by the African Charter and the Revised ECOWAS Treaty;
- An order directing the Government to take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media practitioners; to immediately carry out effective, transparent and impartial investigations into the murders of the seven journalists killed while carrying out their journalistic work or under circumstances relating to the discharge of their duties as journalists; and to identify, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.
When the matter came up on May 19, 2023, MRA was represented by Ms. Yaakugh, leading Mr. Monday Arunsi, MRA’s Legal Officer, but the Federal Government was not represented by any lawyer.
However, the presiding judge, Justice Gberi-be Ouattara, also observed that the processes filed by both parties in the suit were yet to be translated from English to French and that as a result, the matter could not proceed.
The court then adjourned the matter to October 16, 2023 for hearing within which time the processes will be translated from English to French.