The Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has slammed a suit against the Lagos State Government and the Police authorities at the Federal High Court in Lagos over the killing of a journalist, Pelumi Onifade, in Lagos, while covering the #ENDSARS protests in October 2020.
The group urged the court to order the state government and the police to launch a transparent, impartial and independent investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of Onifade, and direct them to identify and prosecute those responsible for the killing.
The late Onifade was a 20-year-old second year student of the Department of History at the Tai Solarin University of Education in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, who was working as an intern reporter with a privately owned Gboah TV.
He was reported to be covering the #ENDSARS protests in Lagos for the television station when he was shot on October 24, 2020 by policemen working with the Lagos State Government taskforce, arrested and taken away while bleeding.
He was also reported to have died in police custody as his family found his body at the Ikorodu General Hospital morgue in Lagos on October 30, 2020, after being told by the police that they had deposited a corpse at the morgue.
In an originating summons filed by Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Charles Musa, on MRA’s behalf against the State Police Commissioner, the Inspector-General of Police and the State Attorney-General, the organization is asking the court to determine whether Onifade’s shooting and arrest by agents of the Commissioner and the IGP is unconstitutional and a gross violation of his fundamental rights to freedom of expression.
“Mr. Onifade’s shooting and arrest by agents of the Commissioner and the IGP on October 24, 2020 in the course of his journalistic work are unconstitutional and a gross violation of his fundamental rights to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Sections 33, 35 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Articles 4, 5 and 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“Mr. Onifade’s death in their custody amounts to extrajudicial killing and an unlawful infringement of his fundamental rights as guaranteed by section 33, 35 and 39 of the Constitution and Articles 4, 5 and 9 of the African Charter; and whether having regard to the provisions of Sections 33 and 39 of the Constitution and Articles 4 and 9 of the African Charter, the police have an obligation to investigate the death of Onifade as a journalist exercising his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under the Constitution and the Charter.
“By virtue of Sections 33 and 39 of the Constitution, Articles 4 and 9 of the African Charter, and Sections 15,18 and 21 of the Coroner System Law of Lagos State, the Lagos State Government has an obligation to conduct a coroner’s inquest procedure to ascertain the cause of death of Mr. Onifade.
“Having regard to the provisions of Sections 33, 35, 39 and 46(1) of the Constitution and Articles 4, 5 and 9 of the African Charter, the court can direct the Police and the Lagos State Government to investigate the harassment, shooting, arrest, and death of Mr. Onifade while in the custody of agents of the Commissioner and the IGP,” a statement issued by MRA’s Communications Officer, Idowu Adewale, and made available to Persecondnews said.
The rights group further stated that in the event that these questions are resolved in its favour, as an organization incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act, with a mission to promote freedom of expression and the press and the right of access to information in Nigeria.
“It is entitled, among other things, to various orders by the court directing the Police and the Lagos State Government to launch a transparent, impartial and independent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Onifade’s death; to conduct a coroner’s inquest procedure to ascertain cause of his death as well as for them to accordingly identify and prosecute those responsible for his death,” the statement added.
However, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.