Hearing Fixed for December 1 in MRA’s Suit Against Federal Government Over Journalists’ Safety

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Justice Peter O Lifu
Federal High Court

A Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed a hearing for December 1, 2021 in a suit instituted by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the Federal Government in which the organization is seeking a declaration that the Government’s failure to fulfil its obligation to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners in accordance with Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa amounts a breach of the statutory duty imposed on it by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

In the Originating Summons filed on behalf of MRA by freedom of expression lawyers, Ms Chioma Nwaodike, Ms Obioma Okonkwo and Mr. Sideeq Rabiu, the organization is asking the court to direct the Federal Government to take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media practitioners as well as to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of all attacks against journalists and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.

Named as respondent in the suit brought by Originating Summons is the Attorney-General of the Federation.

MRA is asking the court to determine whether having regards to the fact that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is an international treaty as well as a domestic law in Nigeria, having been domesticated by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and that Nigeria is a State Party to the treaty as well as a member state of the Africa Union, whether the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, developed and adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights pursuant to the African Charter does not have the status of a subsidiary legislation in Nigeria with binding legal effect.

It also wants the court to resolve the question whether the Declaration, being a subsidiary legislation in Nigeria with binding legal effect is not applicable and enforceable in Nigeria and whether the Federal Government is not obliged to give effect to, comply with and apply Principle 20 of the Declaration, as an elaboration of Article 9 of the African Charter, which has been domesticated in Nigeria by virtue of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

MRA is therefore seeking, among other things:

• A declaration that the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights pursuant to Article 45 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a subsidiary legislation in Nigeria with binding legal effect, by virtue of the fact that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is both an international treaty and a domestic law in Nigeria, and that Nigeria is a State Party to the African Charter and a member state of the Africa Union;

• A declaration that the Declaration of Principles, including Principle 20 of the Declaration, being a subsidiary legislation in Nigeria with binding legal effect, is applicable and enforceable in Nigeria and the Government of Nigeria is under an obligation to give effect to the Declaration;

• A declaration that the failure of the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfil its statutory and treaty obligations to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners in accordance with the provision of Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles amounts to a violation of the Declaration and a breach of the statutory duty imposed on the Government by the African Charter and Nigeria’s treaty obligation under the Charter;

• A declaration that the failure of the Government to ensure the safety of the following journalists: Pelumi Onifade, Precious Owolabi, Uche Uzodinma, Tom Ogazi Uhia, Friday Otabor, Aku Obidinma, Emmanuel Ojo, Charles Otu, as well as other journalists and media practitioners who have been attacked as it is required to do by Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles, is a breach of the statutory duty imposed by the Declaration and the African Charter;

• A declaration that the failure of the Government to take measures to prevent various forms of attacks on journalists and other media practitioners, including murder, extra-judicial killing, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearance, kidnapping, intimidation, threats of physical violence, beatings and assault, unlawful surveillance, among others, as required by Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles amounts to a breach of the Government’ statutory duty under the Declaration and African Charter;

• A declaration that the failure of the Government to take effective legal and other measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, including Pelumi Onifade, Precious Owolabi, Uche Uzodinma, Tom Ogazi Uhia, Friday Otabor, Aku Obidinma, and Charles Otu; as well as the Government’s failure to ensure that the victims of such attacks have access to effective remedies in accordance with Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles, is a breach of the Government’s statutory duty under the Declaration and the African Charter;

• A declaration that by failing to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners in accordance with Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles, the Government has breached its statutory duty under the Declaration and the African Charter and, therefore, bears responsibility and is accordingly liable for the actions and conduct of law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other officials and agents that threaten, undermine or violate the rights and safety of journalists and other media practitioners; and

• An order directing the Government to take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media practitioners, and to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of all attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that all victims of attacks against journalists have access to effective remedies.

The hearing comes up before Justice Peter Lifu.