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SERAP, journalist group sue Buhari, others

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Buhari

• Say gag order on reporting of terrorist attacks illegal
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (known as PTCIJ) have filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, over a new directive preventing broadcasters from reporting details of terrorist attacks.

The suit is asking the court to declare illegal the gag order stopping journalists and broadcast stations from reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims, as the order violates media freedom and Nigerians’ freedom of expression and access to information.

Joined in the suit, as defendant, is the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, disclosed this in a statement.

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The suit followed the directive by the NBC asking journalists, television and radio stations in Nigeria to stop “glamourising and giving too many details on the nefarious activities of terrorists and kidnappers” during their daily newspaper reviews.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/725/2021 filed last Friday, SERAP and PTCIJ are seeking an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Lai Mohammed or any other persons from imposing fines or other sanctions on broadcast stations for carrying out their constitutional duties of reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims during daily newspaper reviews.

In the suit, SERAP and PTCIJ seek an order from the court to compel and direct the NBC and Lai Mohammed to withdraw the directive asking journalists and broadcast stations to stop reporting details on terrorist attacks and victims, as the directive is unlawful and inconsistent with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended), and the country’s international human rights obligations.

SERAP said: “Unless the reliefs sought are urgently granted by this honourable court, the directive by the NBC and Lai Mohammed would be used to impermissibly restrict Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, access to information, media freedom, and victims’ right to justice and effective remedies.”

SERAP and PTCIJ argue that the failure by the government of President Buhari to direct the NBC to withdraw its directive on reporting of terrorist attacks and victims violates sections 5[a] and [b], 147 and 148 of the Nigerian Constitution, Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1], and Oath of office [Seventh Schedule] of the Constitution.

SERAP and PTCIJ also want the court to declare that sections 5.4.1[f] and 5.4.3 of the National Broadcasting Code and their application to the daily review of newspaper headlines by broadcast stations are inconsistent with sections 22 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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According to SERAP and PTCIJ, the NBC directive fails to establish a direct and immediate connection between the reporting by broadcast stations and purported risks to national security and peace.

“The NBC is using ‘national security’ as a pretext to intimidate and harass journalists and broadcast stations, and to violate Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information,” they said.

In the suit filed on behalf of SERAP and PTCIJ by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, the organisations said: “The NBC and Mr. Lai Mohammed lack the power and authority to restrict the ability of journalists and broadcast stations to carry out their constitutional duties and to unlawfully impose penalty such as fines and other sanctions on any journalists and broadcast stations for reporting on details of terrorist attacks and victims in the country.”

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