A human rights lawyer, Tope Temokun, has sued the heads of the Department of State Service (DSS), the Nigerian police, as well as the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, over media restrictions barring many journalists from covering the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The plaintiff filed the suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, the same court Mr Kanu is being prosecuted on charges of treasonable felony and terrorism.
The charges, according to the prosecution, arose from Mr Kanu’s violent separatist agitations for a Republic of Biafra constituted by Igbo-dominated South-eastern part of Nigeria.
Mr Temokun cited in his suit, which he said was instituted in defence of press freedom, how only a handful of journalists were accredited, on July 23, to cover the July 26 proceedings in Mr Kanu’s trial while many unaccredited ones were barred from accessing the courtroom.
Since Mr Kanu’s first court appearance in June after he fled the country in September 2017, the court management and security operatives have been restricting media coverage of the case that attracts local and international interests.
Mr Temokun argues in his suit that the circular dated July 23, 2021 titled ‘MEDIA ACCREDITATION FOR NNAMDI KANU’S TRIAL’ which allowed some selected journalists to enter the court’s premises and denied others not selected entry amounts to “a breach of the rights to freedoms of expression and the press guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
He also argues that “the act of the officers and/or operatives” of the DSS and the police of cordoning off or barricading the access routes to the entrances of the Federal High Court in Abuja on July 26 and allowed journalists whose names were contained in the July 23 circular amounts a breach of the right to freedom from discrimination.
In a ridiculous repeat of the media restrictions, DSS operatives, complemented by the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army, on Thursday, barricaded adjoining streets to the Federal High Court in Abuja, the venue of the trial, turning journalists and lawyers away from the surroundings of the court premises.
Announcing the suit which he filed on October 18 in a statement on Friday, Mr Temokun said the indiscriminate harassment and assault of journalists and lawyers was a violation of their constitutionally guaranteed rights.
“Denying journalists access to the courts is an indictment on any democracy because in true democracy, press freedom comes first,” Mr Temokun said.
The lawyer said it had become necessary to challenge “this new regime of repression enjoying judicial support”.
I have resolved to challenge this circular and have filed an action in the Federal High Court Abuja today in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1272/2021, subjecting the legality of this repressive document to scrutiny,” Mr Temokun said.
He added that “if we don’t stand up to challenge this new regime of repression enjoying judicial support, we don’t know for how long this treatment of assaulting people in court premises and denying the public access to courts by the DSS and the police would come to an end.”
He referenced the recent manhandling of this newspaper’s reporter, Ameh Ejekwonyilo, by armed DSS agents at Mpape magistrate’s court, Abuja, where the journalist had gone to cover proceedings in the trial of the five “Buhari-Must-Go” activists.