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Lawyer accuses FG of shunning ECOWAS court order

14th May 2024

Six months after the Economic Community of West Africa States Court sitting in Abuja delivered a judgment on media freedom in Nigeria, the country has yet to take any measure to implement the order.

This was disclosed to The PUNCH by the counsel for the applicant in the suit, Solomon Okedara, who noted that till now, he was not aware of the Federal Government filing any document to implement the judgment.

The ECOWAS Court sitting in Abuja, on October 23, 2023, delivered judgment in a suit marked ECW/CCJ/JUD/37/43 filed by the Initiative.

The applicant had challenged the use of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code to gag media freedom and free speech by way of imposition of sanctions and punitive fines on broadcast stations across Nigeria.

It also accused the Nigerian government of imposing sanctions and fines without allowing the sanctioned broadcast stations to be heard.

Speaking with The PUNCH, Okedara claimed that on Monday, April 22, 2024, his office had written to the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, reminding him of the need to file the said report of compliance with the order of the court.

A copy of the said letter was made available to our correspondent on Monday, May 13, 2024.

Okedara added that to date, the Federal Government of Nigeria has yet to file the report or reply to the counsel’s letter.

In the judgment, the ECOWAS court had given the Nigerian government a six-month timeline to implement the orders of the court.

Okedara, however, noted that the six-month timeline given by the ECOWAS court had elapsed, as he asked: “Will Nigeria still take measures to implement the orders of the court outlined in the judgment?”

He further asked, “Should Nigeria fail to implement the orders of the court, how will the ECOWAS Court react to non-implementation of its orders by the Nigerian government?

“Will the broadcast stations and the Nigerian people ever experience media freedom?”

In the suit, the applicant specifically challenged Articles 3 (1) (1), 3(1) (2), 15(2) (1) of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) and Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition), saying they contravened the principle of freedom of expression.

The court noted that the provisions of Article 3(1) (2) of the code were too ambiguous and vague, adding that the provisions could lead to curtailment of the right to freedom of expression.

The court concluded that Articles 3 (1) (1) and 3(1) (2) with their vaguely worded provisions and Articles 15(2) (1) and Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) that provide for penalties could not be seen to have been enacted in the spirit of promotion or protection of the right to freedom of expression.

The court also answered in the affirmative and re-emphasised that the fines imposed under Article 15(5(1) of the Amendments to the NBC (6th Edition), in furtherance of the implementation of Articles 3(1)(1), 3(1)(2) of the NBC, violated Article 9 of the ACHPR.

The court ordered that the Nigerian government should align Articles 3 (1) (1), 3(1) (2), 15(2) (1) of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) and Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition), in line with its obligations under Article 1 of the ACHPR and to cease giving effect to the provisions until it had aligned same as ordered.

The Special Adviser to the President on Communication and Publicity, Office of the AGF, Kamarudeen Ogundele, however, said he was not aware of any such letter as he assured that he would look into the matter.

Sourcepunch

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