Court Strikes Out Case Against Insider Weekly Magazine Editors
The Lagos Magistrate Court sitting in Yaba on April 28, 2004 struck out the case of conspiracy, sedition, and criminal defamation preferred against three editors of Insider Weekly Magazine: Osa Director, Chuks Onudinjo and Mrs. Janet Mba, by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police for lack of diligent prosecution.
The editors were charged to magistrate court two, Yaba on November 26, 2003 following their arrest on November 24, 2003.
The editors, ‘and others at large’, were accused of conspiring to effect an unlawful purpose, to wit, the publication of a seditious matter against the Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the National Security Adviser, General Aliyu Muhammed Gusua, Rtd., and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 518 (6) of the criminal code, Cap. 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
They were also accused of publishing a seditious publication and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 51 (1) (C) of the criminal Code, Cap. 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
The third count stated that they punished a defamatory matter in the form of a Magazine against the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the National Security Adviser, General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, Rtd., knowing same to be false and thereby committed an offence punishable Section 375 of the Criminal Code, Cap. 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
At the initial hearing on November 26, 2003, Mrs. Florence Sam-Iroye, MRA’s Legal officer and three other lawyers: Mr. Henry Anikwem, Mr. Festus Keyamo, and Mr. Tony Omighomi appeared for the editors while Mr. Emmanuel Jackson appeared for the prosecutor: state CID, Panti-Yaba. They were granted bail in the sum of N200,000 and one responsible person standing as a surety to each of them. The matter was adjourned to January 12.
At the January 12 sitting, the matter was adjourned to of March 3 for further mention due to the absence of Prosecution Counsel.
On March 3, the case was further adjourned to March 15. The prosecution witnesses were again not in court and the judge threatened to strike out the matter if the witnesses failed to appear in court on the next adjourned date and thereafter further adjourned to April 28.
Again, on April 28 the witnesses, together with their counsel, Mr. Jackson were not in court. The counsel to the editors therefore argued that the matter be struck out for lack of diligent prosecution.
The Judge accordingly struck out the matter.
The editors were arrested on November 24, 2003 at the magazine’s premises on Acme Road in Agidimgbi area of Ikeja in Lagos following the publication, in Insider Weekly Magazine of No. 47 of November 24, 2003 of a story titled Aso Rock’s oil Bunkering Scandal: Atiku, Gusau Linked – 8 Arrested ships To Be Destroyed. The publication indicted the Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the National Security Adviser, General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, Rtd.
Government Names Board Members For Its Media Organs, MRA T o Withdraw Suits
The Federal Government has succumbed to pressures to constitute the boards of its parastatals. On November 10, 2000, it announced the constitution of the boards of 137 parastatals including those of government-owed electronic media and media regulatory agencies.
The media and media related organisations are the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Voice of Nigeria (VON), News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN).
The constitution of the boards came on the heels of a suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), asking the court to compel the Federal Government to constitute the boards in line with the law that each of the organisations be managed and supervised by a duly constituted board. MRA went to court after it had exhausted every available avenue to get the government to comply with the statutory provisions setting up the organisations and agencies.
Reacting to the new development, Mr. Maxwell Kadiri, legal officer at MRA said the organisation would have to withdraw the case as it has been overtaken by events.
MRA had in five separate letters dated January 18, 19, 20 and 21, 2000, addressed to President Olusegun Obasanjo and copied the then Information Minister, Chief Dapo Sarumi, Justice Minister, then Chief Kanu Agabi; and Minister for Communications, Alhaji Mohammed Arzika, urged the President to take urgent steps to constitute the Governing Boards of the agencies concerned.
MRA similarly wrote to the chief executives of the organisations concerned informing them of its moves to compel the Federal Government to obey the relevant laws setting up the organisations by constituting without delay, the boards of directors.
MRA said it was bothered that independence and objectivity stand to suffer in government-owed electronic media and media regulatory agencies, whose administration is left in the hands of individuals who function as sole administrators.
MRA contended that the present situation whereby each of these organisations is run by a Director-General or Managing Director appointed by the President in the absence of a duly constituted board as provided for by law is illegal, as it violates the mandatory provisions of the laws which established each of them and, as well, undermine their independence and outlook.
The Applicants in the suit are the incorporated trustees of Media Rights Agenda; Tive Denedo, the organisations Director of Campaigns; Adeola Ademola, the organisation’s Legal Officer and Osaro Odemwingie, MRA’s Publications Officer.
The respondents are the President of the Federation of Nigeria, the Minister of Information and the Attorney General of the Federation.
Specifically, MRA had in the letters expressed concern over the situation whereby the various government-owed media organisations and regulating agencies are being run by directors- general in the absence of properly constituted governing boards as provided for in the enabling legislations. This, MRA says, is illegal.
The letters noted that while using the medium to draw the President’s attention to these great lapses, it humbly requests the President to take urgent steps to perform his statutory function and ensure compliance with the provisions of the laws.
But MRA gave a warning that in the event that it does not hear from the President within two weeks, it would assume that he does not intend to give effect to clear provisions of the laws and would, therefore, have no other choice than to approach the courts on these issues. The failure of government to comply with the laws, therefore, left MRA with the only option of heading for the law court.
Through a motion ex-parte MRA specifically sought an order of the Court to compel the federal government to forthwith constitute the boards of the affected organisations. (see Media Rights Monitor Vol. 5. No. 4 for April 2000)
Stating the grounds for the application, MRA observed that the non-compliance with the laws establishing the organisations undermines their overall performance especially in balancing the interests of every section that ought, by Legal requirements, to be represented in the boards.
MRA noted that the boards of the commissions and corporations are convergence of certain persons, who are collectively vested with corporate personality by law and their positions should not be subsumed by an individual in the capacity of a Director General or Managing Director.
In a 12-point affidavit in support of the motion, deposed to by Miss Adeola Ademola, MRA observed that the non-compliance with the laws would make it impossible for the organisations to meet the broad policy objectives for which they were established.
MRA argued that the non-compliance is in effect an admission that all these organisations cease to exist save for the office of the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, the office of the Director-General of the NBC, the office of Director-General of VON, the office of the Director-General of NTA, the office of Managing Director of NAN and the office of the Director-General of FRCN.
MRA complained that the de-facto non-existence of these organisations is a sign of unfavourable effects in their management, which will translate into low quality programmes and policies.
Even while the Federal Government was yet to file its response to the suit, VON and FRCN in separate letters to MRA said they could not understand the concern of MRA on the flouting of relevant laws by government and, therefore, advised MRA to preserve its energies and resources for more worthy causes.
VON, in the letter signed by its secretary/ legal adviser, Mr. Sola Tijani noted that: “We have gone through your letter without seeing your relevance within the contemplation of VON’s Enabling Decree and the issue raised by you. You have also not sufficiently articulated the nature of your interest in VON whether it is direct, legal or social.”
“Frankly speaking,” the letter continued, “one would have expected (the type of) your organisation to concentrate on issues bordering on press freedom, ethical practice in Journalism etc as it affects the media organisations and staff. Furthermore, your letter did not suggest that VON is failing in these areas. Surprisingly, you embarked on frivolous issue which definitely would amount to hopeless waste of judicial time.”
VON, however, advised MRA to “endeavour to dissipate your resources and energy on noble objectives of which you will receive VON co-operation and support instead of frivolous cases like the one contained in your letter.”
The letter to MRA by FRCN expressed similar sentiments. In the letter signed by M. M. Kurama for the director general, the organisation said it received MRA’s letter “threatening to drag the corporation to court for an alleged non-compliance with the FRCN Act.”
FRCN noted in the letter that: “After careful analysis of the contents of your letter and the law in question, we regret to inform you that the Corporation is unable to see the justification, both legal and moral, of your threatened action. While the Corporation appreciates your efforts of promoting media freedom and high standards of ethical practice in Journalism practice in Nigeria, your letter did not suggest that the Corporation had infringed on that freedom or, in any way, lowered the standards of Journalism practice in its programmes.”
FRCN, therefore, advised MRA against the institution of “frivolous cases based on speculative facts and serving no interest of justice.”
But contrary to the claims of VON and FRCN, MRA cleared the first legal hurdle in its bid to compel the Federal Government to constitute governing boards for the affected media establishments and media regulatory agencies when in separate proceedings, the Federal High Court in Abuja in May granted it leave in five of the suits to apply for mandatory orders to compel the Government to constitute the governing boards of the NBC and the media establishments. The affected media establishments are the NTA, the FRCN, NAN and VON.
Two judges of the Federal High Court, Justice Chukwura Nnamani and Justice M.A. Edet granted MRA’s applications for leave to apply for an order of mandamus to compel President Olusegun Obasanjo and other relevant Government officials to constitute the governing bodies of the organizations in accordance with the laws establishing them.
Arguing the motions, Mr. Kadiri had noted that the President and the Information Minister were under a public and statutory duty to constitute the governing bodies of the different establishments in accordance with the various laws establishing them and outlining their mode of management. (see Media Rights Monitor Vol. 5. No. 6 for June 2000.)
After hearing Mr. Kadiri’s arguments in each of the cases, Justice Nnamani issued an order granting leave to MRA to apply to the court for an order of mandamus to compel the President and the Information Minister to constitute the governing boards for the NBC, NAN, and VON. He directed that the order and other court processes in the suits be served on the President, the Information Minister and the Attorney General of the Federation within six days.
The two other suits over the governing boards of the NTA and the FRCN were argued by Mrs. Ese Acholonu, MRA’s Legal Officer, before Justice Edet.
Arguing the motions, Mrs. Acholonu expressed concerns similar to those raised by Mr. Kadiri in the cases of the NBC, NAN and VON.
After hearing Mrs. Acholonu’s arguments in each of the cases, Justice Edet granted MRA leave to apply to the court for an order of mandamus to compel the Federal Executive Council, the President and the Information Minister to constitute the governing boards of the establishments. He also directed that the order of the court and all other processes in the suit meant for all the government officials named as respondents be served on the Attorney-General of the Federation.
While the suit was on, Alhaji Arzika, in an unrelated but similar case, announced on March 27 in Abuja that the Federal Government has constituted a nine-man board of directors for the NCC, which is under his ministry. It has as its chairman Alhaji Ahmed Joda. Announcing the constitution of the board at a press conference, Alhaji Arzika expressed the hope that the NCC board would instill confidence in potential local and foreign investors in the industry.
Other members of the board are Mr. Emmanuel Ogba, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, Mr. Isaiah Mohammed and Mr. Shoal Taylor.
The rest are Mrs. Adejaji, chief Patrick Sunday Kentebe, Mr. Augustine Otiji, Mr. Tunde Oyeyipo and Mr. Ernest Ndukwe.
While revealing MRA’s intention to withdraw the suit given the present position, Mr. Kadiri in an interview with Media Rights Monitor expressed regret that the legal tussle that would have established the position of the law on the legality or otherwise of government’s action in appointing directors general for the parastatals concerned without the necessary boards as provided for in law, has been aborted.
According to him, “it might well have been necessary to establish the legality or otherwise of government’s failure to constitute the boards as required by the various enabling law”.
Declaration Of Assets: FG, Code Of Conduct Bureau Deny Violation Of Constitution
The Federal Government and Code of Conduct Bureau on November 2, 1999, through a counter-affidavit deposed to by Alhaji Bisiriyu Onisarotu, the Bureau’s representative, at the Federal High Court in Lagos, denied that there have been major violations of provisions of the 1999 constitution relating to declaration of assets by public office holders. The Bureau denied that a number of executive and legislative public office holders assumed offices at the inception of the Fourth Republic without submitting their declaration of assets to the Bureau as stipulated in the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
The denials were in response to a suit instituted against the Bureau and the Federal Government on August 30, 1999 by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and its Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo. In the suit, the plaintiffs sought to compel the Bureau to release to them, the declaration of assets made by 40 public officers. These officers are the President, the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 36 States governors.
MRA contended in the suit that the true interpretation and effect of Section 3(C) of part 1, of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution is that every Nigerian citizen has an uninhibited right of access to assets declarations made by public officers. It added that the refusal of the Code of Conduct Bureau to allow it access to the assets declarations made by the 40 named public officers was unconstitutional.
In his seven-point counter-affidavit, Alhaji Onisarotu said that the Bureau’s legal adviser, Mr. J. J. Ndupu, had informed him, that both the government and the Bureau have denied MRA’s allegations of major violations of the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers. He said the allegation that a number of executive and legislative public office holders assumed their various offices without submitting declarations of their assets to the Bureau was not true.
He insisted that the onus was on Media Rights Agenda to prove these allegations. He further averred that the government and the Bureau had also denied MRA’s claim that the Bureau did not refute its allegations or allay the concerns expressed by MRA over the violations of the constitutional provisions.
In an earlier affidavit deposed to by Mr. Ojo, MRA had said that it wrote to the Bureau on June 21, 1999, to express concerns over the violations of the Constitutional provisions. It added that it requested that it be allowed to inspect copies of the assets declaration submitted by these public officers.
Mr. Ojo said that in its response dated July 5, 1999, the Bureau did not refute or allay the concerns expressed by MRA. He said the Bureau merely stated that the National Assembly was yet to prescribe terms and conditions to give effect to the enforcement of the provisions of paragraph 3 (C) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution.
Responding to MRA’s claims, Onisarotu said that: “The Code of Conduct Bureau did not refuse the request made by the plaintiffs to be allowed to inspect the assets declarations in its possession.” What the Bureau said, according to Onisarotu was “… you are, therefore, advised to await the prescription of such terms and conditions as the Assembly may deem fit to make for that purpose.” He also denied MRA’s contention that a dispute has arisen between it and the Code of Conduct Bureau, which should be resolved on the basis of MRA’s originating summons.
MRA went to court following the refusal by the Bureau to release to it assets declarations by these forty public officers. MRA had by a letter to the Bureau on June 21,1999 addressed to the Bureau Chairman, Justice Bashir Sambo, expressed concern that some public officers may have violated certain sections of the Constitution by not publicly declaring their assets. It, therefore, asked the Bureau to make available to it information pertaining to declaration of assets by the public officers to enable MRA “assess the level of compliance with the Constitutional provisions relating to declaration of assets and liabilities by public officers.”
MRA’s concern arose out of the fear that there were widespread violations of Constitutional provisions by all tiers of government despite President Obasanjo’s vow to tackle the problem of corruption headlong. It pointed out in its letter that “provisions designed to ensure accountability among public officers appeared to be the most flouted sections of the Constitution.”
But the Bureau refused to give the requested information saying that the National Assembly was yet to prescribe the terms and conditions to give effect to the exercise and enforcement of the Constitutional provisions asking MRA to wait pending the time the National Assembly would prescribe the terms.
Justice Gbolahan Jinadu fixed further hearing in the suit for February 16, 2000.
Court Awards Journalist N300,000 For Assault, Unlawful Detention
An Ikeja High Court in Lagos has awarded the Assistant News Editor of The Punch newspaper, Mr. Adewale Adeoye, the sum of N300,000 as damages for the violation of his fundamental rights when he was illegally arrested, detained and assaulted by the Police in June 1999.
Ruling on Tuesday, October 26, 1999 in a suit filed on his behalf by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Justice Afolabi Adeyinka upheld Adeoye’s claim that the assault on him by the Police and his detention on June 25 constituted a breach of his fundamental rights as guaranteed by Sections 33, 34, and 41 of the 1999 Constitution and Articles 3(2), 4, 5, 6 and 12(1) and (6) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Mr. Adeoye, who is also the Chairman of Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER), a non-governmental organization, along with 16 other innocent persons, was illegally arrested on July 25, 1999, severely beaten and detained by men of the Lagos State anti-robbery team, Rapid Response Squad (RRS) at Ogudu Police Station. He was detained overnight up till late hours of the following day without food, water, or any medical attention given to him for the lacerations he sustained when one of the policemen hit him, pistol-in-hand, on his ear.
At the end of his ordeal, his shoe and a substantial part of the money he kept with the policeman at the counter could not be accounted for. (see Media Rights Monitor, Vol. 4 Nos. 7and 8).
MRA’s Legal Officer, Mrs. Ikhiwi Omonkhua, filed a suit at the Ikeja High Court on his behalf challenging the action of the security agents as a violation of his constitutional rights to personal liberty, security of his person, and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and claiming N30 million against the Police as general and aggravated damages.
In a motion exparte brought pursuant to order 1 rule 2 (1) and (3) of the fundamental rights enforcement procedure rules 1979 and the inherent jurisdiction of the honourable court, Adeoye applied for the following reliefs:
A declaration that the assault on him by the respondents, their servants, officers, agents and / or privies constituted a breach of his fundamental human rights and amounted to gross violation of his right to life, right to dignity of human person, personal liberty and security of person guaranteed under sections 33, 34 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and Articles 5 and 6 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act Cap 10 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990; and,
A declaration that the arrest without a warrant for an offence not in the law or the Constitution, the dehumanising torture, inhuman and degrading treatment meted to him is in breach his fundamental human rights.
Named as defendants in the suit were the Attorney-General of Lagos State, the State’s Commissioner of Police; the Ogudu Police Station in Lagos; the Rapid Response Squad, and Officer Olaniyan of the Ogudu Police Station.
Following the persistent failure of the Police to appear in court to defend the suit, Justice Adeyinka granted Mrs. Omonkhua’s request that she should be allowed to argue the case of Mr. Adeoye on its merits.
She referred the court to a 21-paragraph affidavit deposed to by Mr. Adeoye in support of the motion to enforce his fundamental rights and argued that the series of events narrated in the affidavit establish that Mr. Adeoye’s rights guaranteed by both the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter had been violated.
She argued that no matter how short the detention was, once the court finds that it was unjustified, it would amount to a violation of Mr. Adeoye’s fundamental rights.
Mrs. Omonkhua noted that the Police had not contradicted the allegations and so, the court must accept the facts as proved and accordingly act on them. She therefore asked the court to make the declarations and orders sought by Mr. Adeoye in the suit.
In his ruling, Justice Adeyinka declared that the assault on Mr. Adeoye by the security agents constituted a breach on his fundamental human rights as it amounted to a gross violation of his rights to life, dignity of human person, personal liberty and security of his person guaranteed under Sections 33, 34 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution as well as Articles 5 and 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap 10. Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.
He also declared that Mr. Adeoye’s arbitrary arrest and detention without a warrant and for an offence not stated in law or in the Constitution constituted a breach of his fundamental rights guaranteed under Sections 34, 35 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution and Articles 3(2), 4, 5, 6, and 12(1) of the African Charter.
The judge held that the inhuman and degrading treatment meted out to Mr. Adeoye by the Police was a violation of his fundamental rights guaranteed under Section 34, of the 1999 Constitution and Articles 12(1) and 5 of the African Charter.
He ordered the Police to publicly apologize to Mr. Adeoye for the violation of his fundamental rights in accordance with Section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution and awarded him damages of N300,000.
A wave of excitement trailed the ruling with Mr. Adeoye describing it as “a momentous victory for democracy and the rule of law over brute force.”