Nigeria must comply with recent high court judgment to protect journalists’ safety: CPJ News
moritz320 / Pixabay
Nigeria must comply with recent high court judgment to protect journalists’ safety: CPJ

Nigerian authorities must comply with a recent federal high court judgment ordering them to investigate and appropriately punish all attacks against journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Thursday. The landmark judgment, delivered on February 16, could have significant implications for Nigerian journalists, who are frequently monitored, arbitrarily arrested, attacked and killed. However, the CPJ warned that Nigerian authorities have a history of broadly disregarding rulings protecting press freedom.

Nigerian press freedom group Media Rights Agenda (MRA) filed the lawsuit at the heart of the February 16 ruling in October 2021 against Nigeria’s federal government. MRA claimed that Nigerian media professionals’ rights to life and freedom of expression were repeatedly violated by the government. They pointed to the alarming rate at which media professionals have been murdered over the past few decades (either in the line of duty or under circumstances relating to their careers) and the failure of the government to adequately protect them, investigate their deaths and prosecute and punish their killers. They cited several examples of unresolved attacks on journalists, such as: Dele Giwa, killed by a parcel bomb in 1986; Bolade Fasisi shot in 1998, and Omolulu Falobi shot in 2006.

The lawsuit by no means captured all the Nigerian journalists whose deaths have been left without sufficient investigation. In a letter addressed to President Bola Tinbu in August 2023, the CPJ named 22 journalists killed in the last 30 years.

In the judgment, Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja stated:

An order is hereby made directing the federal government of Nigeria to investigate, prosecute and publish perpetrators of all attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that all victims of attacks against journalists have access to adequate remedies. An order is hereby made directing the federal government to take measures to raise awareness.

He agreed with the MRA’s claim that the killing of the journalists was a violation of their rights under Section 33’s right to life)of the 1999 Constitution and Article 4’s respect for life of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Ekwo also found that the journalists’ deaths while fulfilling their duties was a violation of their freedom of expression and the press under section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter. He further declared that the government had violated Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, which ensures the safety of journalists and other media practitioners.

Hence, Ekwo found the government to be in breach of these statutory duties and ordered that they resolve this.

In a January Universal Periodic Review, a UN Human Rights Council mechanism enabling member states to undergo peer review of their human rights affairs, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Lateef Fagbemi claimed that Nigeria remains one of the safest places for journalists in Africa. Fagbemi said journalists in Nigeria are free from “any form of harassment or intimidation.” This is contrary to most reports.

“Authorities in Nigeria must take swift and transparent steps to comply with the federal high court ruling instructing them to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for attacking and killing journalists,” said the head of CPJ Angela Quintal. She went on, “Investigations that deliver justice for slain or attacked journalists would be a demonstration of political will on the part of Nigeria’s government to improve press freedom in the country.”

This sentiment was mirrored in a press statement by the Nigerian National Committee of the International Press Institute, which called for “a crack team of investigators” to reopen all unsolved journalist murder cases. The institute continued, “We call on the govermment to protect them in accordance with its obligation under the African Charter on Human & Peoples Rights. All past cases of journalists’ murder, brutalisation and harassments should be thoroughly investigated and punished.”