By Joy Odor
The Federal Government has disclosed that it is processing a request by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) for it to establish a specialized team of prosecutors to facilitate effective investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against journalists and other media workers.
In a letter addressed to MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, said: “Your letter requesting the Federal Government of Nigeria to establish a specialized team of prosecutors to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of crimes against journalists and other media workers through the office of the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has been received and is being processed.”
Dr. Gwandu, who wrote on behalf of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), promised that “You will be communicated if there is any development thereof.”
Mr. Ojo wrote to the Federal Government on behalf of MRA on October 26, 2021, ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI) on November 2, calling on the Government to establish the team of specialized prosecutors.
He said this would, among other things, position Nigeria to “fulfil its international treaty obligations under a number of regional and international instruments, most notably Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, adopted in November 2019 by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights pursuant to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Nigeria is a State Party.”
Acknowledging that the Government received MRA’s letter on the issue “with great appreciation”, Dr. Gwandu said it was gratifying that “professional bodies, pundits, youth and non-partisan organizations are objectively and dispassionately taking into account of the outstanding professional acumen and wealth of experience brought to bear in the transformation of the Federal Ministry of Justice” by Mr. Malami.
In its October 26, 2021 letter to the Government, MRA expressed grave concern that “despite the numerous cases of attacks against journalists in Nigeria in the last few decades, including many of them killed, no one has ever been charged with any crime for such attacks and nobody has ever been punished.”
The organization said the situation was reflecting negatively on the Government and signals a wrong message to perpetrators that they can attack or even kill journalists and that there will be no adverse consequences for the perpetrators.
It noted that as a regional power and leader, it was critical for Nigeria to demonstrate moral leadership by living up to the commitments it had made, particularly in the African context, by respecting and abiding by such regional standards and instruments.
MRA cited Principle 20 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, titled “Safety of journalists and other media practitioners”, saying it imposes an obligation on State Parties to the African Charter, including Nigeria, to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners, and provides, among other things, that:
· States shall take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media practitioners, including murder, extra-judicial killing, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, kidnapping, intimidation, threats and unlawful surveillance undertaken by State and non-State actors;
· States shall take measures to raise the awareness and build the capacities of journalists and other media practitioners, policy makers and other stakeholders on laws and standards for ensuring the safety of journalists and other media practitioners;
· States shall take effective legal and other measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies;
· States shall be liable for the conduct of law enforcement, security, intelligence, military and other personnel which threatens, undermines or violates the safety of journalists and other media practitioners; and
· States shall take specific measures to ensure the safety of female journalists and media practitioners by addressing gender-specific safety concerns, including sexual and gender-based violence, intimidation and harassment.