The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja has announced that it will conduct a virtual court session on May 19, 2023, to hear a lawsuit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA). The suit calls for the Nigerian Federal Government to thoroughly investigate the unresolved killings of 11 journalists over a span of two decades. These journalists were tragically killed while carrying out their professional duties, yet no one has been charged or prosecuted for their murders.
The lawsuit was filed on August 16, 2021, by MRA, represented by Abuja-based lawyer Mr. Darlington Onyekwere, alongside Ms. Chioma Nwaodike, Ms. Obioma Okonkwo, and Mr. Sideeq Rabiu. The legal action alleges that the Federal Government of Nigeria has failed in its obligation to protect journalists and conduct effective investigations into their killings, thereby violating various domestic, regional, and international instruments.
The victims of these senseless killings include Tunde Oladepo, the Bureau Chief of The Guardian newspaper’s Ogun State office, who was shot in his home in the presence of his family in February 1998. Okezie Amauben, publisher of Newsservice magazine, was reportedly shot and killed by a police officer in Enugu in September 1998. Fidelis Ikwuebe, a freelance journalist for The Guardian newspaper, was abducted and murdered while covering violent clashes in Anambra State in April 1999. Sam Nimfa-Jan, a journalist with Details magazine, was killed while covering riots in Kaduna State in May 1999. Samson Boyi, a photojournalist with The Scope, was killed by armed men while on assignment in November 1999.
Other victims include Bayo Ohu, an assistant news editor with The Guardian, who was shot in his home in Lagos in September 2009. Nathan Dabak and Sunday Gyang Bwede, deputy editor and reporter, respectively, for the Light Bearer magazine, were attacked and killed by a mob in Jos in April 2010. Zakariya Isa, a reporter and cameraman with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), was killed in October 2011. Enenche Akogwu, a reporter and camera operator with Channels Television, was killed in Kano in January 2012. Precious Owolabi, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member serving as a reporter with Channels Television, was shot and killed in Abuja during a protest in July 2019.
Media Rights Agenda seeks various declarations and orders from the court. These include declarations that the killings violated the journalists’ fundamental rights to life and freedom of expression, as well as a declaration that the government’s failure to protect them and conduct thorough investigations constitutes a breach of its obligations under domestic and international laws. The organization also calls for orders to prevent future attacks on journalists, identify and prosecute the perpetrators, and provide compensation to the victims’ families.
In response to the lawsuit, the Nigerian government, represented by lawyers Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru, Mr. Daniel Modozie, and Mr. Solomon Ogunlowo, filed a notice of preliminary objection, a statement of defense, and a statement of facts and pleas in law on November 3, 2021.
The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice’s decision to hear this important case signifies a crucial step towards seeking justice for the slain journalists and holding accountable those responsible for their deaths. The virtual hearing scheduled for May 19, 2023, is expected to shed light on the government’s actions