The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja has fixed hearing for May 19, 2023 in a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) seeking to compel the Federal Government to properly investigate the unresolved killings of 11 journalists killed over a period of two decades under circumstances relating to the discharge of their professional duties as well as to identify and prosecute their killers.
The journalists were killed between 1998 and 2019 but no one was ever charged or prosecuted for any of the killings, even in those cases where more than 20 years had lapsed since they were killed.
The suit will be heard through a virtual court session, according to the Court’s Chief Registrar, who said in a “Hearing Notice” that it has been set down for hearing at 10am, Abuja time.
The deceased journalists, over whom MRA lodged the suit, include: 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 arbitrarily 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, then 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.
The suit was filed on August 16, 2021, on behalf of MRA by Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Darlington Onyekwere, leading Ms Chioma Nwaodike, Ms Obioma Okonkwo and Mr. Sideeq Rabiu, against the Federal Government of Nigeria over its failure, refusal or neglect to protect the journalists or to carry out effective investigations into their killing and prosecute or punish the perpetrators, in alleged violation of the obligations imposed on it by various domestic, regional and international instruments.
Specifically, MRA is seeking, among other things:
- A declaration that the killing of the 11 journalists is a violation of their fundamental right to life as guaranteed by Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended; Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
- A declaration that the killing of the 11 journalists while they were carrying out their professional duties is a violation of their rights to freedom of expression and the press as guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution, Article 9 of the ACHPR, Article 19 of the UDHR and Article 19(2) of the ICCPR;
- A declaration that the failure of the Federal Government to adopt effective measures to protect and guarantee the safety of the 11 journalists pursuant to Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, 1993 and Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, amounts to a breach of the obligation imposed on the Government by the ACHPR and the Revised ECOWAS Treaty;
- A declaration that the Government has an obligation under Sections 33 and 39 of the Constitution, Articles 4 and 9 of the ACHPR; Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Article 2(3) of ICCPR, and Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty to carry out effective and impartial investigations, as well as to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of attacks on journalists in Nigeria;
- A declaration that the failure of the Government to take effective legal and other measures to adequately investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against the 11 journalists and ensure that the victims’ families have access to effective remedies, is a breach of the obligation imposed on the Government under Article 66(2) of revised ECOWAS Treaty, Article 2(3) of the ICCPR and the ACHPR;
- An order directing the Government to take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media workers as well as an order directing it to immediately carry out effective, transparent and impartial investigations into the killing of the journalists; and
- An order directing the Government to identify, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the attacks against the journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies as well as an order directing it to pay N10 million as compensation to each of the victims’ families.
On November 3, 2021, the Government, through its lawyers, Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru, leading Mr. Daniel Modozie and Mr. Solomon Ogunlowo, filed a notice of preliminary objection to the suit, a statement of defence, and a statement of facts and pleas in law.