Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos asking it to order the Lagos State Government and Police authorities to launch a transparent, impartial and independent investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of Mr. Pelumi Onifade, a journalist killed in Lagos while covering the #ENDSARS protests in October 2020, and direct them to identify and prosecute those responsible for killing him.
The late Mr. Onifade was a 20-year-old second year student of the Department of History at the Tai Solarin University of Education in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, and was working as an intern reporter with the privately owned Gboah TV. He was covering the #ENDSARS protests in Lagos for the television station, when he was shot on October 24, 2020 by policemen attached to the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Other Special Offences, arrested and taken away bleeding. He apparently died in police custody as his family found his body at the Ikorodu General Hospital morgue in Lagos on October 30, 2020, after being told by the police that they had deposited a corpse at the morgue.
In an Originating Summons filed by Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Charles Musa, on MRA’s behalf, against the Lagos State Commissioner of Police (COP), the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the Attorney-General of Lagos State pursuant to Sections 6(6) and 46(1) as well as 33, 35 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution; Articles 4, 5 and 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2004; and Order II Rules 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, the organization is asking the court to determine whether:
- Mr. Onifade’s shooting and arrest at Oko Oba in Agege Local Government Area of Lagos State, by agents of the Commissioner and the IGP on October 24, 2020 in the course of his journalistic work are unconstitutional and a gross violation of his fundamental rights to freedom of expression as guaranteed by sections 33, 35 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Articles 4, 5 and 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
- Mr. Onifade’s death in their custody amounts to extrajudicial killing and an unlawful infringement of his fundamental rights as guaranteed by section 33, 35 and 39 of the Constitution and Articles 4, 5 and 9 of the African Charter; and whether having regard to the provisions of Sections 33 and 39 of the Constitution and Articles 4 and 9 of the African Charter, the police have an obligation to investigate the death of Onifade as a journalist exercising his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under the Constitution and the Charter;
- By virtue of Sections 33 and 39 of the Constitution, Articles 4 and 9 of the African Charter, and Sections 15,18 and 21 of the Coroner System Law of Lagos State, the Lagos State Government has an obligation to conduct a coroner’s inquest procedure to ascertain the cause of death of Mr. Onifade; and
- Having regard to the provisions of Sections 33, 35, 39 and 46(1) of the Constitution and Articles 4, 5 and 9 of the African Charter, the court can direct the Police and the Lagos State Government to investigate the harassment, shooting, arrest, and death of Mr. Onifade while in the custody of agents of the Commissioner and the IGP.
MRA said in the suit that in the event that these questions are resolved in its favour, as an organization incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act, with a mission to promote freedom of expression and the press and the right of access to information in Nigeria, it is entitled, among other things, to various orders by the court directing the Police and the Lagos State Government to launch a transparent, impartial and independent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Onifade’s death; to conduct a coroner’s inquest procedure to ascertain cause of his death as well as for them to accordingly identify and prosecute those responsible for his death.
In a 25-paragraph affidavit in support of the application, Mr. John Gbadamosi, MRA’s Programme Officer, deposed that at the time of Mr. Onifade’s encounter with the Police, he was wearing a jacket identifying him as a journalist and was with his colleague, Mr. Jimi Michael, who was also on assignment to cover the scene where a mob was raiding a government facility at Oko Oba.
He said while the journalists were covering the unfolding event, policemen stormed the scene with cutlasses, throwing bottles and shooting live bullets as they engaged the hoodlums who were attempting to loot palliatives at the Ministry of Agriculture store in the area.
According to him, during the attack, Mr. Onifade sustained an injury but was nonetheless arrested by the policemen of the taskforce and carried away in a Black Maria van bleeding from gun-shot wounds he received from the shooting.
Mr. Gbadamosi deposed that when Mr. Onifade’s colleague, Mr. Jimi Michael, tried to intercede on his behalf by showing the policemen his identity card and explaining that Mr. Onifade was wearing a Gboah Television jacket, the police officers threatened Mr. Michael, with one of them pointing a cutlass at him while others cocked and pointed their guns at him.
He said from October 24 to 27, 2020, Mr. Onifade’s family and colleagues searched for him at police stations and other facilities in Lagos without success and on October 27, the family and Gboah TV posted a missing person’s announcement on social media, whereupon that same evening, ACP Saheed Egbeyemi, then Chairman of the Taskforce, called the family and scheduled a meeting with them for the following day to discuss the possibility that Mr. Onifade was in their custody.
Mr. Gbadamosi deposed that on October 28, at the police State headquarters in Ikeja, police officers told Mr. Onifade’s family and colleagues that they arrested five people at the Ministry of Agriculture in Oko-Oba on October 24, and that one of those arrested had died, and his corpse was deposited at the Ikorodu General Hospital morgue
He said it was at the police headquarters that Mr. Onifade’s family found out that ACP Egbeyemi’s deputy, Mr. Taiwo Akerele, led the operation at the Ministry of Agriculture store and that the journalist was unjustly killed and that the policemen deposited his body at the morgue.
According to him, on October 30, the late Mr. Onifade’s family and colleague identified his corpse at the mortuary in Ikorodu.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.