Federal High Court Again Adjourns, Fixes Hearing for October 2021

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Mrs. Mojirayo Nkanga

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has once again adjourned hearing in a suit instituted by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the National Assembly and the Federal Government 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. The court has fixed October 14, 2021 as the new hearing date.

In the suit filed on behalf of MRA by Abuja-based human rights and free expression lawyer, Mrs. Mojirayo Nkanga, 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 are named as respondents.

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:

  1. A declaration that the legislative reading of the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the National Assembly, Senator Michael OpeyemiBamidele, and Senator Mohammed Sani Musa and 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;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. 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
  5. A perpetual injunction restraining all them, their agents, officers and/or representatives from further deliberations, meetings and/or reading the Bill with the intention of passing into law as its provisions violate the extant provisions of section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter.

The suit was filed by Mrs. Nkangain March 2020 and first came up for mentionin November 2020 after all the documents had been exchanged and the respondents had filed their notices of preliminary objections, which MRA had also responded to.

On November12, 2020 when it came for hearing, lawyers in the matter were informed that the Court had instructed that all matters for mention should be adjourned and the suit was accordingly adjourned to February 19, 2021 for mention.  But when the matter came up on that  date, only the Senate President, Senator Michael OpeyemiBamidele, and Senator Mohammed Sani Musa were represented in court.

The court heard MRA’s motion to regularisethe processes already filed and adjourned to the case to March 19, 2021 for adoption of all processes. The judge indicated then that all the processes would be deemed adopted on that date even if other lawyers were not in Court and that after adoption, the suit would be reserved for judgment. He then adjourned the matter to June 1, 2021.

However, when the suit came up on June 1, 2021 the Court could not sit as a result of the then ongoing industrial action embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), and as such the Court adjourned it to October 14, 2021.