Federal Court Sets February 21 for Hearing of MRA’s Suit Over Constitutionality of Offence of Publication of Defamatory Matter

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Ms Oluwabunmi Ogbontiba
Member of MRA’s network of lawyers

A Federal High Court in Ibadan, Oyo State, has fixed hearing for February 21, 2022 in a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the Federal Government asking the court to determine the constitutionality of several provisions of the Criminal Code Act of the Federation, including sections making the publication of defamatory matter criminal offences.

The suit, filed on MRA’s behalf by Ibadan-based lawyer, Ms Oluwabunmi Ogbontiba, MRA, seeks, among other things, a declaration that Sections 59, 204, 373, 375 and 376 of the Criminal Code Act, Laws of the Federation, 2004 which criminalize publication of defamatory matter, are unconstitutional, null and void.

MRA is contending that the provisions have a chilling effect on Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended; and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has been domesticated in Nigeria by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act CAP A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

The organization named as Respondent in the suit the Attorney-General of the Federation, and wants the court to determine whether the provision Sections 59, 204, 373, 375, 376, of the Criminal Code Act, Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004 have a chilling effect on Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and therefore if it is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution.

It is also seeking a determination of whether the provisions of Sections 59, 204, 373, 375, 376, of the Criminal Code Act are within the permissible restrictions stipulated in section 45 of the 1999 Constitution and whether the provisions are likely to infringe upon the right to freedom of expression of MRA and other Nigerians as provided in section 39 of the Constitution.

MRA is asking the court to determine whether the sections should be declared unconstitutional, null and void if they are held to be inconsistent with the provisions of Section 39 and 45 of the Constitution.

It is therefore asking the Court for the following reliefs:

  • A declaration that the provisions of Sections 59, 204, 373, 375, 376, of the Criminal Code Act, Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004,is in violation of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter;
  • A declaration that the actions of the Federal Government in giving effect to the provisions to arrest, detain, harass, imprison and/or penalize MRA’s members, associates and other Nigerians is in violation of their rights under Section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter;
  • A declaration that the provisions are not permissible restrictions to the right to freedom of expression as contained in Section 45 of the Constitution;
  • A declaration that the sections not being in line with the provisions of Sections 39 and 45 of the Constitution are unconstitutional, null and void; and
  • A perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Government and its agencies from further giving effect to the provisions.