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ECOWAS Court Gives Judgment On Press Council Inconsistency With Human Rights Law

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The ECOWAS Court of Justice has delivered its judgment in a case brought by two Nigerian journalists alleging the Nigerian Press Council Act of 1992 was discriminatory and violated their right to freedom of expression.

In its judgment delivered by Hon Justice Dupe Atoki, Judge Rapporteur, the Court declared that Sections 19 (1)(a), 27 and 37 of the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act failed to recognize public interest media including rights of online and citizen journalists thereby violating Article 9 (1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and Article 8 (1) and 10 (2) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.

The Court therefore ordered the government of Nigeria to amend these contested Sections to align with international practices that promote free, pluralistic, and professional journalism. It however dismissed other claims which were not substantiated.

The case with suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/31/21 was filed on 14 June 2021 by lawyers representing the Applicants – Mr. Isaac Olamikan and Mrs. Edoghogho Ugberease – online and citizen journalists who practice journalism for the promotion of freedom of expression, opinion, and access to information.

In the application, they claimed that Sections 19(1)a, 27, and 37 of the Nigeria Press Council Act of 1992 require journalists to be at least 18 years and accredited by the NPC, for 25 years to be an editor with working experience in a reputable media organization or news agency and registered with the Nigeria Union of Journalists, discriminated against them.

The Applicants’ lawyers led by Mr. President Aigbokhan argued that these Sections failed to recognise public interest media such as the rights of online and citizen journalists and were therefore discriminatory and violated their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under Articles 2 and 9(1) of the ACHPR, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), Articles 2, 10 and 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 8 (1) and 10 (2) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa; and breached the State’s obligation under the ECOWAS Treaty among other cited texts.

“For example, Section 37 of the Press Council Act, puts the minimum age to practice journalism as 18 years of age, while to be qualified as an editor, requires a minimum of 25 years of age. Sections 19(a) and 27 of the Act impose educational qualifications and compulsory courses of attendance and training before a person can be recognized and allowed to practice as a journalist,” the judgment stated.

They also submitted that they were arrested separately at different locations while investigating and gathering information for their work and that their arrest and detention were unlawful and violated their rights.

The Applicants asked the Court to order the Respondent to amend the contested Sections of the NPC Act to align with international practice and pay 1,000,000 (one million) USD as damages.

On their part, the Respondent’s lawyers Mrs Maimuna Lami Shiru and Mrs B.J. Oladipo told the Court that ‘journalism is a sensitive profession requiring mastery as well as regulation to prevent negative effect, adding that rights to information and freedom of expression are not absolute.’

The Respondent denied arresting and detaining the Applicants unlawfully, stating that the first Applicant was arrested because his action had national security implications while the second Applicant operated illegally.

They added that, in the same way as other professional bodies, there were criteria for registration and membership as journalists, and urged the Court to dismiss the case describing it as frivolous, baseless and an abuse of court process.
In its analysis, the Court determined if the matter was within its mandate, if it was admissible and if the Sections of the NPC Act were discriminatory and violated the right to freedom of expression of the Applicants. Relying on its rules of procedure and jurisprudence, the Court held the matter was within its jurisdiction and the case was admissible.

On the alleged violation of Article 2 of ACHPR, the Court noted that the Applicants did not substantiate how they were treated differently in an identical or similar situation. Consequently, it held that their rights to freedom from discrimination under Article 2 of ACHPR have not been violated.

While on the alleged violation of Article 9 (freedom of expression), the Court noted that Section 19(1) and Section 27 of the Press Act imposing a minimum educational requirement, age limit, and registration, were restrictive and interfered with the right to freedom of expression, and therefore violated Article 9 (2).

In reaching its decision, the Court also noted the impact of technology in the evolving media space with the advent of citizen journalists, influencers, and content creators who share news, commentary, and analysis on social issues. Though not qualified in the traditional sense, they contributed to shaping public opinion.

It drew inspiration from young activists notably Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg who in their teens integrated online media in their advocacy and attained world recognition through an unrestricted opportunity to gather information and express opinion.

Regarding the Applicants’ claim of unlawful arrest and detention, the Court noted that the Applicants did not prove their arrest was unlawful. Consequently, the Court dismissed their claims of unlawful arrest and request for compensation.

Both parties were ordered to bear the costs of litigation.

Also on the bench were Hon Justices Edward Amoako Asante (presiding) and Sengu M. Koroma (Member).

FOREIGN NEWS

Canadian Embassy, NIDCOM Collaborate To Manage Migration

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Dr. Jamie Christoff, Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, has emphasised the importance of collaborating with Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) to achieve mutually beneficial migration management outcomes.

The Canadian Envoy made the statement during a visit to NiDCOM Chairman/CEO Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa in Abuja.

He stated, “I understand the impact of large diaspora groups and their contributions to Canada. The Nigerian diaspora is one of our top five migrant groups and a major contributor to Nigeria’s economy. We must assist these Nigerians in migrating on a regular basis.

Christoff went on to say that the two must work together to bridge the gap in Nigerians’ expectations, particularly those who are acting with good intentions, in order to showcase the best of Nigeria.

The envoy stated, “This can be accomplished through regular engagements with Nigerians, knowledge and information sharing on the proper steps to regular migration, and what to expect in Canada.”

According to the Ambassador, he and his team are ready to assist the commission with opportunities, time, and expertise to achieve a better-managed migration.

Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO NiDCOM, welcomed the delegation and expressed her appreciation for the visit, as well as the offer of partnerships, revealing some of the Commission’s ongoing projects with the Nigerian Diaspora in Canada.

She recalled her time in Canada meeting with Nigerian groups and the many positive developments that resulted from the interactions.

The NIDCOM CEO stated, “This year, we will host the Nigeria-Canadian Business Summit in Canada, as well as a Nigeria Day, to bring together this large diaspora group to explore ways to make an impact, both in the host country and back home.”

Dabiri-Erewa reiterated that both countries have numerous opportunities to capitalise on, adding that the Commission, with the assistance of a Councillor in Canada, is working on a Canada Pull Factor as a pilot project to harmonise Nigerian data in Canada with the Diaspora Data Mapping portal.

She also mentioned other strategies implemented by the Commission to engage Nigerians in Diaspora, such as the National Diaspora Policy, the National Diaspora Day Celebration/National Diaspora Merit Award, the Diaspora Investment Trust Fund, the Diaspora Door of Return Festival, and Diaspora Medical Missions, among others.

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FOREIGN NEWS

Don’t Judge Our Performance By Present Political Situation, ECOWAS Insists 

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Dr. Alieu Touray, President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, has expressed concern that the current political situation in the subregion has overshadowed the regional bloc’s efforts to address the needs of its citizens.

He said this while lamenting the low trade volume among member states, which is around 12%.

Touray also said the trade volume within the larger African continent was not also impressive as it stands under 20%.

Speaking at the maiden briefing on the activities of the sub-regional body on Wednesday in Abuja, Touray said: “There is so much more that ECOWAS is engaged in, because ECOWAS is present in virtually all facets of human development in the region, planning and providing
for the contemporary needs of the community.

“Unfortunately, these laudable strides in the region’s relentless march towards
an economic union have been overshadowed by contemporary political developments.”.

He said with the strategies and policies in place to encourage trading and movement of goods and people within the subregion, it is disheartening that trade amongst member states is abysmally low, noting that: “At the moment, our intra community trade stands around 12%. On the whole in Africa, intra continental trade is under 20% which is extremely low.”

He stated, “When you look at developed countries, countries that are sufficiently integrated, or regions that are sufficiently reintegrated, intra-continental trade alone is around 60 to 70%.

” So we have a long way to go. Very long way to go and this is why it is important that we open our markets for our own produce, our own manufactured items.”

He also emphasised the importance of having a sufficient local content in subregional production.

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FOREIGN NEWS

Russia Praises ECOWAS’ Partial Lifting Of Sanctions On Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso

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Russia has praised the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) decision to lift some sanctions imposed on departing members of the bloc, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, as a result of military intervention in civilian governance.

An official statement by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said: “The window for dialogue between the Sahel States Alliance (SSA) and ECOWAS remains open, and the decisions made at the Abuja summit can be seen as a demonstration of political will in the interest of maintaining Community unity.”

The statement said, “On February 24th, an extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was held in Abuja, Nigeria, where the most pressing regional issues were discussed. The forum resulted in a series of important decisions, including those addressing the preservation of ECOWAS unity in light of the recent announcement by the leadership of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso of their “immediate” withdrawal from its membership. These countries, amidst the Community’s imposed restrictions, established a new integrative alliance in September 2023, named the “Sahel States Alliance” (SSA), aimed at consolidating efforts in national defense and security.

The forum resulted in a series of important decisions, including those addressing the preservation of ECOWAS unity in light of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso’s recent announcement of their “immediate” withdrawal from the organisation.

“The Russian side emphasizes that the West African states should determine their own ways to resolve the current situation. The window for dialogue between the SSA and ECOWAS remains open, and the decisions made at the Abuja summit can be seen as a demonstration of political will in the interest of maintaining Community unity.

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