Court Bars NASS From Summoning Newspaper Editors
The Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions had in a letter dated August 5, 2015 threatened to invoke Section 89(1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution against the editor of the newspapers, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho, if he fails to willingly come before it to answer questions on a news story published in the newspaper on July 30, 2015.
The said story over which the Senate Committee summoned Omotosho was titled “Motion: 22 APC Northern senators working against Buhari.”
Omotosho and the reporter who filed the story, Imam Bello, were directed “to appear before the committee unfailingly to prove the authenticity of your allegation” on August 11, 2015.
But yesterday, the applicants, who considered the Senate’s invitation as an infringement on their fundamental right to freedom of expression under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, went to the court through their counsel, Wahab Shittu. The matter is before Justice Mohammed Yunusa.
The applicants are seeking to restrain the National Assembly from issuing a bench warrant to compel their appearance for interrogation. Shittu, while moving the ex parte application, contended that Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution, which the National Assembly relied upon, did not confer any power on it to summon Omotosho, Bello and the publisher of the The Nation newspapers, Vintage Press Limited, to answer any question.
Shittu, who maintained that The Nation got the information published in the story from competent sources, both formal and informal, argued that the newspaper was protected by law to conceal the identities of its sources in keeping with the ethics of journalism.
He argued that rather than summon the applicants, the only available option open to the National Assembly was to sue the applicants for libel or slander if it thought that it had valid claims.
“My Lord, the right of the applicants to freedom of expression and the press, guaranteed under Section 39 of the Constitution, is about to be threatened or to be infringed upon except your lordship intervenes very decisively and quickly.
“My Lord, if the respondents have any cause to challenge the content of the story, they can go to court and sue for libel. ” Shittu argued. Urging the court to grant the application, he said the applicants risked being ridiculed except the court intervened. Yunusa, after listening to Shittu, said, in a bench ruling, that he found the application to be meritorious and therefore restrained the National Assembly from issuing a bench warrant against the applicants pending the determination of the main suit and subsequently adjourned the matter till August 28, 2015.