Justice Minister Tells Court that Journalists Killed or Injured in Course of their Work Were Negligent

0
19
Ms Obioma Okonkwo, MRA’s lawyer

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), has said at a Federal High Court in Lagos that the death and injuries suffered by journalists in the course of their work were as a result of negligence on the part of the affected journalists, adding that law enforcement officers could not be held liable for the death of the journalists killed.

.

In a counter-affidavit deposed to on his behalf by Ms Felicia Des Bordes, a litigation officer in his office, in response to a suit instituted against the Federal Government by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the Attorney-General denied that law enforcement officers in Nigeria have carried out “any human rights violations against journalists and media practitioners”, claiming that the evidence offered by MRA to the contrary are “merely false allegations”.

Ms Des Bordes, who said she had the authority and consent of the Attorney-General to depose to the counter-affidavit, claimed that contrary to MRA’s allegations, “most of the cases and instances put forward by the organization as cases of fundamental rights and protection infringement can be attributed to contributory negligence on the part of the affected journalists as most of them failed, neglected and refused to heed proper protocols and standards of care and prudence for their own good, which can lead to injury or loss of life.”

In the suit instituted by MRA’s lawyer, Ms Obioma Okonkwo, 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 initiating the suit, MRA is asking the court to determine whether having regards to the fact that the African Charter 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 in the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and that Nigeria is a State Party to the treaty as well as a member state of the Africa Union (AU), whether the Declaration of Principles, which was 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.

MRA is therefore seeking, among other things:

·         A declaration that the Declaration of Principles, adopted by the African Commission pursuant to Article 45 of the African Charter is a subsidiary legislation in Nigeria with binding legal effect, by virtue of the fact that the African Charter 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 AU;

·         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 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 Onifade, Owolabi, Uzodinma, Uhia, Otabor, Obidinma, and 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.

But Ms Des Bordes said contrary to MRA’s claims, journalists and media practitioners are obliged by their profession to follow regular and systematic professional training about news coverage in hostile environments and that the exhibits tendered by MRA did not sufficiently and conclusively prove “the false allegations” made against the Federal Government and law enforcement officers.

She deposed that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has assured journalists in Nigeria of protection while the Attorney-General had also made a pledge at the 2021 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

The hearing of the suit comes up before Justice Peter Lifu on January 31, 2023.