MRA Sues Federal Government at ECOWAS Court for Failing to Investigate, Punish Killers of 11 Journalists

Mr. Darlington Onyekwere

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has filed a suit at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja over the failure of the Federal Government of Nigeria to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of the murders of 11 journalists killed between 1998 and 2019, and is asking the court to direct the Government to pay the families of each of the journalists N10 million as reparation.

In the suit filed on its behalf by Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Darlington Onyekwere, along with Ms Chioma Nwaodike, Ms Obioma Okonkwo and Mr Sideeq Rabiu, MRA claimed that despite the Nigerian government’s obligations under various domestic, regional and international instruments, it has failed, refused, neglected and/or omitted to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish the killers of the journalists who were murdered while exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression and of the press or under circumstances connected to the exercise of these rights.

It also expressed concern that unless the Court intervenes, the government will neither adopt measures to protect journalists nor cause any real, transparent and impartial investigations into the killings of journalists in Nigeria while the perpetrators of such dastardly acts will not be prosecuted and punished.

The journalists named in the suit are Mr. Tunde Oladepo, Bureau Chief of The Guardian newspaper’s Ogun State office, killed in Abeokuta on February 26, 1998 by gunmen who entered his home early in the morning on that day and shot him dead in the presence of his wife and two young children; Mr. Okezie Amauben, publisher of Newsservice magazine, reportedly arbitrary shot and killed by a police officer in Enugu on September 2, 1998; Mr. Fidelis Ikwuebe, a freelance journalist for The Guardian newspaper, who was abducted and murdered on April 18, 1999 while covering violent clashes between the Aguleri and Umuleri communities in Anambra State; Mr. Sam Nimfa-Jan, a journalist with Details magazine in Jos, Plateau State, who was killed in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, on May 27, 1999 while covering riots between Hausa Fulani and Zangon-Kataf groups and his body was found with arrows protruding from his back; and Mr. Samson Boyi, a photojournalist with the Adamawa State-owned newspaper, The Scope, who was killed by armed men on November 5, 1999 while on assignment to cover a visit by the then State governor, Mr. Boni Haruna, to the neighbouring Bauchi State.

The others are Mr. Bayo Ohu, an assistant news editor with The Guardian newspaper, shot by armed men in his home in Lagos on September 20, 2009;   Mr. Nathan Dabak, deputy editor, and Mr. Sunday Gyang Bwede, reporter, both with the Light Bearer, a monthly newspaper owned by the Church of Christ in Nigeria, who were attacked and killed by a mob in Jos on April 24, 2010, while on a reporting assignment; Mr. Zakariya Isa, a reporter and cameraman with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), killed on October 22, 2011 and for which Boko Haram reportedly claimed responsibility when its spokesman, Abul Qada, was quoted as saying that the militants killed him “because he was spying on them for Nigerian security authorities”;  Mr. Enenche Akogwu, a reporter and camera operator with Channels Television, killed in Kano on January 20, 2012 by gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members; and Mr. Precious Owolabi, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member serving his primary assignment as a reporter with Channels Television, who was shot and killed in Abuja on July 22, 2019 while covering a protest by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria resulting in a confrontation with the Nigerian Police.     

Brought pursuant to Sections 33 and 39 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution; Articles 4 and 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Articles 2(3), 6(1) and 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); Articles 4 and 66(2) of the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS; and Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa 2019, the suit also seeks, among other things, the following reliefs:

  • A declaration that the killing of the 11 journalists is a violation of their fundamental rights to life and freedom of expression and the press as encapsulated in the 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 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 an effective and impartial investigation, 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 11 journalists as well as its failure to take effective legal and other measures  to adequately investigate, 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 11 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.