Nigeria Considering Decriminalizing Defamation, Review of Laws Restricting Access to Information

Media Rights Agenda
By Media Rights Agenda February 13, 2018 10:31 Updated
Muhammadu Buhari President Federal Republic of Nigeria

Muhammadu Buhari
President Federal Republic of Nigeria

The National Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee and the Nigerian Law Reform Commission are considering a review of obsolete laws and other laws inconsistent with Nigeria’s human rights treaty obligations as part of efforts to decriminalize defamation and bring other existing laws that restrict access to information into conformity with the Freedom of information Act.

Explaining the steps it has taken to implement the recommendations of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the Federal Government said in its sixth Periodic Country Report on its Implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which it submitted to the Commission on January 29, 2018, that the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture is currently making efforts in collaboration with relevant stakeholders to intensify the training of staff of all appointed information offices in all its ministries, departments and agencies, on the establishment and running of effective access to information regimes.

 In the 166-page report covering 2015 and 2016, issued on behalf of the Federal Government by the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), said “Nigeria is committed to the progressive realization of the basic rights and freedoms of individuals and groups as well as their duties enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights through legislative, policy, judicial, administrative and budgetary measures.”

 According to him, “Efforts have been made within the period under review (2015-16) by Nigeria to improve on her obligation to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights by enhancing the capacity and independence of the judiciary, relevant ministries and human rights institutions.”

Mr. Malami said the efforts include direct intervention programmes and projects that seek to impact on the standard of living, quality of life, security and welfare of the individuals and groups within Nigeria’s jurisdiction but admitted that “there are numerous challenges ahead in the effective promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights and in the realization of the time-bound Sustainable Development Goals.”

However, the Federal Government appeared to be justifying the lack of progress in the area of press freedom as it insisted that “the Court of Appeal in the case of Sun Publishing Ltd v. Aladinma Medicare Ltd (2016) 9 NWLR (Pt.1518) P.557, held that the right to freedom of expression and of the Press is not absolute under the Nigerian Constitution”.

Following the submission of the fifth country report by Nigeria three years ago, the African Commission had encouraged the country to take the necessary measures to ensure the right to freedom of expression, particularly for the private media and human rights defenders.

In a rather hazy response to this recommendation, the Federal Government claimed in the sixth Periodic Report that Section 39 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression and the press subject to the constitutional limitations of public interest/reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.

 It also cited the obligations of the Mass Media as contained in Section 22 of the Constitution.

On the recommendation to decriminalize defamation and amend existing laws that restrict access to information, to bring them into conformity with the Freedom of information Act, the government claimed the National Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee and the Nigerian Law Reform Commission are considering the review of obsolete laws and laws that are inconsistent with Nigeria’s human rights treaty obligations.

Nigeria was asked by the African Commission in its recommendations on the country’s fifth Periodic Report to adopt legislative measures to protect human rights defenders in conformity with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 and the Commission’s Resolutions on Human Rights Defenders including ACHPR/Resolution 69 (XXXV) 04, ACHPR/Resolution 119 (XXXXII) 07, and ACHPR/Res.196 (L) 11, and to create a forum for dialogue with civil society.

The country was also advised to review its legislative initiative towards regulating the procurement of foreign aid by CSOs in Nigeria, to ensure that it does not impose restrictions or complex bureaucratic procedures for CSOs’ fundraising activities as well as budgeting, allocation and utilisation of funds, and also does not interfere with the financial autonomy, organisational and administrative affairs of CSOs.

But Nigeria made no comments on these two recommendations, except for a somewhat evasive response as it merely said it noted the recommendations and will report next on any progress made.

Member State of the African Union are required by the African Charter to submit biennial reports on the steps they have taken through legislative, policy, judicial, administrative and budgetary measures to see to the realization of the rights and freedoms of individuals and groups as well as their duties enshrined in the Charter.

The reports are reviewed by the African Commission which also makes recommendations to the governments on the steps to be taken to improve their human rights situations or practices.

Media Rights Agenda
By Media Rights Agenda February 13, 2018 10:31 Updated
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