Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has filed a suit against the Federal Government at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja seeking to compel it to properly investigate the long unresolved killings of seven journalists over the last 35 years, including the 1986 murder of the late Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, Mr. Dele Giwa, and prosecute their killers.
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 at home 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; 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 claimed in the suit that unless the court intervened 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.
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 investigate adequately, prosecute and punish perpetrators of 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.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.