MEDIA LAW, ETHICS AND THE IMPERATIVE FOR PROFESSIONALISM

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  • Posted by: Imoh Robert



Historical context


1. NIGERIA’S MILITARY GOVERNMENTS AND ANTI-PRESS LAWS
Nigeria’s press laws in the past 63 years have undergone series of metamorphosis. Apart from the ones promulgated by the colonial governments and under the short-lived civilian government between 1960 and 1966, quite a number of such laws were ingrained in our statute books under successive military governments.
The colonialists started off with The Newspaper Act of 1917. Ever since, there have been a floodgate of legislations against the press, the worst being under the military governments.
Since the military ruled by Decrees, quite a number of these Decrees, apart from ousting the jurisdiction of courts from entertaining suits on them, went the extra mile of prescribing harsh penalties for infractions.
This situation led to a number of journalists being arraigned in court or military tribunals on trumped-up charges or outright proscription or closure of media houses.

Proscription and closures had always been ready tools in the hands of military governments who were intolerant of criticisms by the independent press. Sometimes, the governments didn’t even go to the extent of promulgating Decrees to back up the closures. They simply embarked on whimsical and capricious closures. But in most cases, Decrees and Edicts were passed to back up the proscriptions and closures.
On September 9,1968, Brigadier Adeyinka Adebayo, then Military Governor of the defunct Western State passed an Edict proscribing Sunday Star and Imole Owuro1.
The Edict prohibited the sales, distribution and possession of the newspapers in the then Western State. Any person who contravened the Edict was to go to jail for two years. The proprietors of the newspaper did not fold their arms as they were being guillotined by the Western State government. They went to court to challenge the proscription Edict and the case came before Justice Olu Ayoola.
Justice Ayoola, on May 28, 1970, in his judgment, held that the proscription Edict was illegal as it contravened Section 25 of the 1963 Constitution which dealt with freedom of Expression.
Section 25(1) of the 1963 Constitution stated: “Every person shall entitled to the freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
Section 25(2): “Nothing in this Section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society”.
Said Justice Ayoola:
“In this case, it has not been shown before me that the newspapers in question contravened any law of the state or that the imposition of a ban on them was warranted by any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. The Edict No. 17 therefore in my view conflicts with Section 25 of the Constitution of the Federation and a Fortiori with Section 4 of Decree 1 of 1966 be declared and is hereby declared void.”
It was however, during the tenure of General Olusegun Obasanjo as Head of State that proscription again reared its ugly head. It was the proscription of Newbreed magazine2.
The magazine had been quite critical of the government of General Obasanjo. But the last straw was the magazine’s publication of an interview with former secessionist leader, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was then in exile in Abidjan.
Obasanjo was livid and on June 4, 1978 passed a Decree proscribing Newbreed.
The decree also ordered that all copies of the magazine be impounded. Perhaps, taking a cue from the nullification of the proscription Edict passed by Brigadier Adebayo in 1968, Newbreed proscription Decree ousted the jurisdiction of courts on the matter.
Section 3 of the Decree Stated: “The question whether any provision in Chapter III of the Constitution of the Federation has been is being or would be contravened by anything done or proposed to be done in pursuance of the Decree shall not be inquired into, in any court of law and accordingly, Section 31, 32 and 117(2) (b) of the Constitution shall not apply in relation to any question.”
The proscription was later lifted by the Shehu Shagari government.
In the similar fashion that Newbreed was proscribed, the General Ibrahim Babangida government on April 6, 1987 proscribed Newswatch magazine3.
The proscription which was to last for six months, was as a result of the publication of Cookey recommendations on the political Bureau. However, before the government lifted the proscription on August 27, 1987, a Lagos-based lawyer, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa (of blessed memory), took the government to court to challenge the proscription.4
According to him, the proscription violated Section 36 of the 1979 Constitution that dealt with freedom of expression.
But Justice David Oguntade (now a retired Supreme court Justice) on May 18, 1987 ruled that his court had no jurisdiction to declare as unconstitutional, Newswatch proscription Decree.
His reasoning was based on Decree No. 1 of 1984 which stated that no Decree could be questioned on the ground that the Federal Government had no competence to make the Decree or that it violated the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Expression.

When the Guardian Group of Newspapers was closed by the Lagos State Government on May 29, 1991, the newspaper management filed a suit at Ikeja High Court on June 3 to challenge the closure. But the suit was withdrawn even though no proscription order was made.
But despite the re-opening of the newspapers, four Human Rights Groups- Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL), and Human Rights Committee of Lagos State Council of NUJ went to court.
Based on this suit, the court restrained the Lagos State Government, the police or any government agent from closing any media house in Lagos State until the final determination of the case.
A similar pattern was enacted during the April 1992 closure of Concord Group of Newspapers. The four groups that went to court to challenge the closure of Guardian, filed another suit to challenge the closure of Concord and on April 15, 1992, Mr. Justice Eniola Longe of Ikeja High Court ordered the policemen to vacate the Concord premises and that the newspapers be opened immediately. The Federal Government flouted the court order.
Following the disobedience, the Human Rights Groups initiated contempt proceedings against the Inspector-General of Police by issuing “Form 48” (notice of consequences of disobedience to court order).
The doors of Concord Newspapers were later flung open by the Federal Government on April 23, 1992, a day after the contempt proceedings were initiated.

The June 12 struggle in 1993 again led the press on collision course with the Government of General Ibrahim Babangida.
In one fell swoop, Concord Group of Newspapers, Punch Group of Newspapers, Sketch Group of Newspapers owned by the governments of Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Osun States and Observer Newspapers owned by the Edo State Government, were in July 1993 proscribed by virtue of Decree 48 of 1993.5
Also proscribed was The News6. This led to the birth of Tempo.

Earlier in March 1993, the Federal Government had proscribed Kaduna-based Reporter7 while the Government also promulgated an all-encompassing Decree8 that gave it power to proscribe any publication by whatever title. The Concord Group went to court and Justice James Oduneye of Ikeja High Court ordered the police to vacate the premises.
A Human Rights Body, Constitutional Rights Project (CRP) also went to court in respect of the closure and occupation of The News9 by security agents.
Abuja-based Abuja Newsday was also closed down but not proscribed.

With the advent of the Abacha regime in November 1993, proscribed media houses were re-opened. But this lease of life was momentary as they were back under lock and key few months after.
In June 1994, The Concord10 and Punch11 Group were proscribed while on August 14, 1994, Guardian12 Group joined the fray when it was also proscribed.
All the three newspapers went to court to challenge their proscriptions. On July 29, 1994, Justice Tajudeen Odunowo of Federal High Court, Lagos ordered the immediate re-opening13 of Punch as it awarded the newspaper N25 million as damages while its Editor, Bola Bolawole was awarded N100,000.00 as damages for unlawful detention.
Said Justice Odunowo:
“Even if an offence was committed by them, the government has a panoply of sanctions that could be inflicted on the company under the civil and criminal laws of libel, obscenity, sedition etc. That such a course was not adopted against the applicants is a clear indication that there was no legal authority for the respondents’ actions. In these days of massive unemployment and grave recession, it is unconscionable for any Government to adopt any action that is likely to disturb the economic wellbeing of over 400 of her citizens happened in the case…. One wonders why the government did not take advantage of the remedies available under the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) which was recently set up by the military regime.. These violations cannot be justified on any of the grounds that the invasion of their rights was done in the interest of security, public safety, public order or public morality.”
Similarly, Justice Babatunde Belgore, the Chief Judge of Federal High Court on August 18, 1994, ordered immediate re-opening of Concord14 and awarded N1.5 million as damages.
Justice Mamman Kolo, of Federal High Court also ordered the immediate re-opening of The Guardian.15 All these court orders were disdainfully flouted by the Federal Government.

Decrees were the major legislative tools of military governments and in Nigeria, they were churned with much devious rapidity. Decrees were enacted to circumscribe the practice of journalism.
Between 1966 and 1998, the following 21 Decrees and Edicts were promulgated by the military against the Press:
1. Circulation of Newspapers Decree No. 2 of 1966
2. The Defamatory and Offensive Publications Decree No. 44 of 1966
3. Newspaper Prohibition of Circulation Decree No. 17 of 1967.
4. The Sunday Star and Imole Owuro (Prohibition) Edict No. 17, 1968
5. The Printers and Publishers of the Sunday Star and the Imole Owuro (Declaration as unlawful society) Edict No. 19, 1968.
6. Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No. 11 of 1976
7. Daily Times of Nigeria (Transfer of Certain Shares) Decree No. 1 of 1979.
8. Newspaper  (Prohibition of Circulation) (Validation) Decree No. 12 of 1978
9. Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No. 4 of 1984
10. Newswatch (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 6 of 1987.
11. The Reporter (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 23 of 1993
12. Offensive Publication (Proscription) Decree No. 35 of 1993
13. Treason and Treasonable Offences Decree No. 29 of 1993
14. Newspapers Registration Decree No. 43 of 1993
15. The News (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree of 1993
16. Newspapers etc. (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree 48 of 1993 Proscribing Concord, Punch, Sketch and Observer Groups of Newspapers)
17. The Concord Newspapers and African Concord weekly magazine (Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 6 of 1994.
18. The Punch Newspaper (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 7 of 1994.
19. The Guardian Newspapers and Guardian Weekly Magazine (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 9 of 1994.
20. Concord Newspapers and African Concord Magazine (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) (Extension of Time) Order 1994 and the Punch Newspaper (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) (Extension of Time) Order 1994.
21. The Guardian Newspapers and African Guardian Weekly Magazine (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) (Extension of Time) Order 1995.
Some of these Decrees never went unchallenged by the Press. In 1984, when the Buhari government jailed two Guardian reporters, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson one year each under Decree 4, The Guardian management went to court16 for a proper interpretation of Decree 4, particularly as regards whether if a story which embarrassed the government and was true could be an offence under the Decree.
Then Chief Judge of Lagos State, Late Justice Adetunji Adefarasin in his ruling on July 26, 1984 held that by virtue of the provisions of Decree 4 of 1984 “it is unlawful for the plaintiffs to publish any report or statement which is true, which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or a State Government or a public officer to ridicule or disrepute.”
Similarly, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) went to court asking for the nullification of the Decree17.


In his ruling on June 8, 1983, Justice Yaya Jinadu held that he had jurisdiction to entertain the suit but that the NUJ lacked the locus standi to institute the action.
On appeal at the Court of Appeal, the court further affirmed that the NUJ had no locus standi. Although, this pronouncement on locus standi  sounded illogical because if the NUJ had no locus standi to sue on behalf of journalists, who then had the locus standi?
In this case, counsel to the NUJ made a fatal error by not annexing NUJ constitution to the pleadings to show that it had a sufficient interest in the case.(For further details, see Publish the truth and go to jail:The Decree 4 trial-A witness to history by Richard Akinnola).


However, in 1993 in the case of Richard Akinnola v. General Ibrahim Babangida18, Justice Solomon Hunponu -Wusu of Lagos High Court ruled that the claimant had the locus standi to sue on behalf of himself and other journalists.
The plaintiff sued on behalf of himself and also in his capacity as the Chairman of Human Rights Department and Professional Services Department of Lagos State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists, to challenge the promulgation of the Decree 43 of 199319, a Decree that laid down stringent conditions for the registration of both existing and up-coming publications. The court restrained the Federal Government from implementing the Decree until the suit was disposed of.
The Federal Government objected to the suit on the grounds that the plaintiff had no locus standi and that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
But in his ruling, Justice Hunponu-Wusu held that by virtue of the fact that the plaintiff/applicant was an official of the NUJ, part of whose responsibility was to protect the interest of 4,000 members of the Union in the state, he was competent to institute the action.
On the issue of jurisdiction, the Court held that since Nigeria is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People Rights Cap. 10 Laws of the Federation, a Charter that preserves the jurisdiction of courts, it superseded any ouster clause in any Decree.
Also in the case of Guardian Newspapers v. The Attorney General of the Federation20 on the same Decree 43 of 1993, Justice Samuel Ilori of Ikeja High Court declared the Decree null and void.
However, if the press is to be able to perform its roles effectively as enshrined in sections 22 and 39 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, as amended, it must not suffer any legal impediment.

2. EXISTING MEDIA LAWS IN THE COUNTRY1. Nigerian Broadcasting Commission Act
2. Nigerian Press Council Act
3. Official Secrets Act of 1962
4. Publication of false news in Newspapers
5. Provoking Breach of peace by Offensive publication (section 88A of the Criminal code
6. Cybercrimes (Prohibition) Act, 2015
7. Printing presses Regulation
8. Power to prohibit importation of publications, section 58 of the Criminal code of 1958
9. Publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public (Section 59(1) of the Criminal code
10.*Sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code (Sedition law which has been annulled by the court) 
11. Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 as amended by the Terrorism (Prevention and prohibition) Act 2013

12. Freedom of Information Act 2011

13. Contempt of court –Criminal Code Laws of the Federation 1958

14. Criminal Defamation –Section 373-381 of the Criminal code

15. Public incitement contrary to section 114 of the Penal Code (applicable to the Northern states and FCT)


     However, a cursory look at our Criminal Code law shows that apart from these, there are some other provisions contained therein that may be used against the media, though some of the penalties are obsolete.
Section 42 -Promoting Inter-communal war:
“Any person who, without lawful authority, carries on, or makes preparation for carrying on, or aids in or, advises the carrying on of, or preparation for, any war or warlike undertaking with, for, by, or against, any traditional chief, or, with, for, or against any band of citizens, is guilty of felony, and is liable to imprisonment for life.”
Section 59(1) –Publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public
Section 59(1):”Any person who publishes or reproduces any statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace, knowing or having reason to believe that such statement, rumour or report is false, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for three years.”
Section 88A – Provoking Breach of Peace by Offensive Publication
(1) Any person who-
(a) in any manner or firm publishes or displays or offers to the public the pictorial representation of any person living or dead in a manner likely to provoke any section of the community; or
(b) publishes or circulates publications either in the form of newspapers or leaflets, periodicals, pamphlets or posters, if such publications are likely to provoke or bring into disaffection any section of the community, or
(c) sings songs, plays any instrument or recording of sounds, or sells, lends, or lets on hire any record of sounds, the words of which are to provoke any section of the Community, shall be guilty of an offence for which he may be arrested without warrant by any police officer or member of the armed forces in uniform, and upon conviction shall be liable to a fine of one hundred naira or to imprisonment for a term of three months, or to both….”.
Section 204 – Insult to Religion
Any person who does an act which any class of persons consider as a public insult on their religion, with the intention that they should consider the act such an insult, and any person who does an unlawful act with the knowledge that any class of persons will consider it such an insult, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.”Section 375 – Criminal Defamation
“Subject to the provisions of this Chapter, any person who publishes any defamatory matter is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for one year; and any person who publishes any defamatory matter, knowing it to be false, is liable to imprisonment for two years.”

                Criminal Defamation and false allegation– The case of social critic, I.G Wala
I.G Wala is a social commentator and an anti-corruption activist. Through his facebook page, he made some serious allegations of corruption against Abdulahi Muktar, the Chairman of National Hajj Commission. The Chairman petitioned the police and I.G.Wala was charged to an Abuja High, which on April 15, 2019, sentenced him to seven years imprisonment for the following offences:
* Managing an unlawful society
* Defamation of character
* Public incitement.

CRIMINAL CONTEMPT

Section 133(4) of the Criminal Code deals with Criminal contempt. This is different from criminal defamation.

In 2002, during the initial trial of Major Hamza Al-Mustapher, General Ishaiya Bamaiyi and three others, over the alleged murder of Kudirat Abiola and the attempted murder of Alex Ibru, the defendants tried different tricks to stall their trial. One of such was accusing the presiding judge, Justice Ade Alabi, then the CJ of Lagos, of allegedly demanding $10 million as bribe for their bail (an ordinarily unbailable offences). This allegation was made in open court. Their counsel, Mike Okoye went further to address reporters after the court proceedings (which was not covered by qualified privilege), repeating same allegation, which was carried by some newspapers).

The Lagos state Attorney-General charged him to court for criminal contempt. When he realized that his career was at stake, he recanted in court and apologized. The court ordered him to publish the apology in four newspapers.

3. ETHICAL ISSUES

INDECENT REPORTS

        Item Five of our Code of Ethics stated inter alia: “A journalist should not present lurid details, either in words or picture, of violence, sexual acts, abhorrent or horrid scenes”. These apply to cases like Rape, Minors and gory pictures of vioent crimes or accidents. There was a robbery incident at Otukpo, Benue State few weeks ago when robbers raided some banks and killed some people. When I saw the gory pictures on the social media, I couldn’t view them twice. These are types of pictures that can’t be displayed in the newspapers or tv screens as they tend to assault the sensibilities of the public.

        In England, for example, Section 1(1) of The Judicial proceeding (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 of England states:

“It shall not be lawful to print or publish or cause or procure to be printed or published in relation to any judicial proceedings, any indecent matter, or indecent medical, surgical or physiological details, being matter or details the publication of which would be calculated to injure public morals.”

        For example, it is indecent to report the aspects of proceedings in a rape case where a witness describes in details, the lecherous steps the accused person took as he raped his victim.

This is certainly a piece of evidence meant only for the Judge’s record of proceedings and not for publication to the public. It assaults the moral decency of members of the public.

        Another area is that a reporter has to be cautious while reporting the evidence of a medical practitioner, say in a murder case, where the pathologist gives details of his examination on the dead body. Here is an example from a pathologist giving evidence in a murder case.

        “I found the face of the body, an adult female cyanosed, froth or foam at nostrils, eye infected, pupils dilated, finger nails and toe nails intense blue, vigor mortis present in lower limbs, faces present between nates,  external injuries were two linear oblique abrasions, three transverse contusions and abrasions on the right neck, oral lacerated wound at the back of left shoulder; parallel lacerations cutting upwards and backwards from middle of front of left knee; contusion to middle of front or right thigh; and deep transfers cut on outer right thigh above knee.

        “Internal examination showed brain and meanings congested, trachea contains froth, chest cavity contains blood stained clear fluid.  Liver congested, spleen enlarged”.

        This type of evidence could obviously spoil the breakfast for the reader. It’s a type of evidence considered indecent for publication. The details are too gory, and could assail the sensibilities of the reader. The reporter should limit himself to the cause of death and not the medical details.

MINORS

Item eight of our Code of Ethics is very clear on this. There are also legal provisions that protect minors or juveniles from the glare of publicity, either in normal courts or in juvenile courts.

        For clarity sake, section 277 of the Child Rights Act of 2003 defines a child as any person under the age of 18. Section 3 of the Children and Young Persons Act defines a young person as “a person under the age of fourteen years”.

        The law also provides that the identity of minors shall not be revealed when they appear in court either to answer to charges or as witnesses. Similarly, the picture of the juvenile shall not be taken nor published as far as that proceedings are concerned.

        This position has also been further strengthened by the provision of Section 36 (4)(a) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended which states: “a court or such a tribunal may exclude from its proceedings persons other than the parties thereto or their legal practitioners in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, the welfare of persons who have not attained the age of eighteen years, the protection of the private lives of the parties or to such extent as it may consider necessary by reason of special circumstance in which publicity would be contrary to the interest of justice;

        This provision of the constitution puts a restriction on the coverage of minors and some other sets of people depending on the circumstances.

PARADE OF SUSPECTS

Closely on the heels of this is the practice of parading of suspects by law enforcement agents which the media gleefully publicise. It is illegal and an infringement to their rights to fair hearing. Apart from the fact that three courts had declared this practice as illegal, the Lagos State government went a step further by passing a law – Administration of Criminal Justice (Amendment) law 2021.

Section 9(a) of the law states: “As from the commencement of this law, the police shall refrain from parading any suspect before the media”.

DISCLOSURE OF SOURCES OF INFORMATION

A strong, cardinal principle for all journalists is the issue of non-disclosure of sources of information. It is very strong just as medical doctors cannot disclose their patients record or a legal practitioner disclosing his/her client’s confidential information. See Olusola Oyegbemi v. Attorney-General of the Federation 1984 NCLR 895, Innocent Adikwu & Ors v. House of Representatives (1982) 3 NCLR 394 and Senate v. Tony Momoh (1983 4 NCLR 269.

This has been further emphasized in the Code of Ethics of the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO). Interestingly, this matter always comes up each time a journalist is arrested. The police or DSS always want to know the sources which is impossible. Any journalist that discloses his/her sources of information is not worthy to be a journalist. In fact, that is a disgrace to the profession.

WRONG USAGE OF WORDS IN HEADLINES

Charged is different from sued. When someone is charged, the person is facing a criminal matter but when the person is sued, that is a civil matter. These have been used interchangeably by many journalists. If it were to be in some other jurisdictions, that could land such a media house in defamation suit.

Similarly, Fine is different from costs. Few months ago, many media houses screamed: “Keyamo fined N10 million over Atiku case”. Fine has to do with criminal matters, not civil matters. What ought to have been published was that Court awards N10 million costs against Keyamo and not fine. Keyamo could have sued over this because it presupposes that he had been found guilty by a court. 

Also, case Struck out is different from case Dismissed. When a matter is struck out, it can be re-filed and re-listed but when it is dismissed, that marks the end of the matter except the person goes on appeal. It is therefore wrong to cast a headline that a matter is dismissed when it was struck out. Remember, a number of people read you to get educated.

To Charge is different from to arraign. Someone can be charged without being arraigned. Charges can be filed and withdrawn without the person being arraigned. When someone is arraigned, it means that he was put in the dock and his plea taken. Recently, I saw a headline that “XYZ arraigned but court did not sit”. So, if court did not sit, how was the person arraigned? Obviously, charges were filed against the person but was not arraigned.

 CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
It needs be emphasized that for every right, there has to be a corresponding responsibility. Reason journalists have to navigate through the marauding laws against the media with circumspection by adhering to the Code of Ethics of the profession.  We should drop the toga of arrogance and offer apology when we are wrong.

In the course of holding the government accountable according to section 22 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), we should not shy away from saying it as it is as criticism is not synonymous with sedition as law enforcement agents are wont to say. There is no doubt that many public officials have not imbibed certain democratic norms, which include accepting criticisms.

Section 22 of the 1999 constitution is explicit wherein the media were given a responsibility to hold the government accountable. Quite a number of these infractions are committed by the police and the DSS, which have exhibited lots of intolerance, even under a democratic setting. It is also worrisome that many State governors are dictators who govern their States as fiefdoms, where criticism is seen as an anathema.
Media Stakeholders need to continue to harp on the inviolability of section 22 of Nigeria’s constitution and the need to adhere to the admonition of the Court of appeal in the case of Arthur Nwankwo v.The State21, concerning the issue of Sedition, a dead law which the government often uses to hound the press and also the need to have a specific provision in our constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press, like we have in section 162(1) of the constitution of Ghana, unlike section 39(1) of Nigerian constitution which only guarantees freedom of expression for all Nigerians and not freedom of the press. 
Sedition and criticism of public officers
In the case of Arthur Nwankwo, a greater light was shed on the Sedition Law. Chief Nwankwo, a publisher, had written a book in 1982 titled: “How Jim Nwobodo Rules Anambra State” a book that seriously attacked Chief Nwobodo, then Governor of Old Anambra State, accusing him of corruption and tyranny.
Chief Nwankwo was charged with Sedition before Justice F.O. Nwokedi, then of Onitsha High Court and was found guilty and jailed 12 months.
At the Court of Appeal, Enugu, to which he appealed, the Court made up of Justices Alfa Belgore, Olajide Olatawura, and Aikawa, made a landmark jurisprudential decision that overturned the verdict of the High Court and went further to inter the remains of Sedition Law.
The Appeal Court ruled that Sedition law – Sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code is inconsistent with Section 36 of the 1979 Constitution and therefore void.
Said Justice Olatawura: “It is my view that the law of Sedition which has derogated from the freedom of speech guaranteed under this Constitution is inconsistent with the 1979 Constitution, more so when this cannot lead to a public disorder as envisaged under Section 41(a) of the 1979 Constitution. We are no longer the illiterates or the mob society our colonial masters had in mind when the law was promulgated. The safeguard provided under Section 50(2) is inadequate more so where the truth of what is published is no defence. To retain Section 51 of the Criminal Code in its present form, that is even if not inconsistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by our Constitution, will be a deadly weapon and to be used at will by a corrupt government or tyrant … Let us not diminish from the freedom gained from our colonial masters by resorting to laws enacted by them to suit their purpose. The decision of the founding fathers of this present Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech must include freedom to criticize should be praised and any attempt to derogate from it except as provided by the Constitution must be resisted. Those in public office should not be intolerant of criticism. Where a writer exceeds the bounds, there should be a resort to the law of libel where the plaintiff must be of necessity put his character and reputation in issue. Criticism is indispensable in a free society”. (For further reading, see LAW FOR JOURNALISTS by Richard Akinnola).

REFERENCES
1. Sunday Star and Imole Owuro (Prohibition) Edict No. 17 of 1968.
2. Newspaper (Proscription from Circulation (Violation) Decree No. 12 of 1978
3. Newswatch (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation Decree No. 6 of 1987
4. Dr. Olu Onagoruwa v. General Ibrahim Babangida (1980) 1 NLR 254
5. Newspapers etc (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 48 of 1993
6. The News (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree of 1993
7. The Reporter (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 23 of 1993
8. Offensive Publication (Proscription) Decree No. 25 of 1993
9. The Registered Trustees of the Constitutional Rights Project v. A-G of the Federation & 4 Ors. Suit No. M/353/93.
10. The Concord Newspapers & African Concord Weekly Magazine (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 6 of 1994.
11. The Punch Newspapers (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 7 of 1994
12. The Guardian Newspapers & African Guardian Weekly Magazine (Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation) Decree No. 9 of 1994.
13. The Punch Nigeria Ltd. v. Inspector General of Police. Suit No. FHC/L/CS/608/94
14. Concord Press Limited v. Inspector-General of Police. Suit No. FHC/L/CS/608/94
15. Guardian Newspaper Ltd. v. Inspector-General of Police
16. Guardian Newspaper Ltd. v Attorney-General of the Federation. Suit No. M/139/84.
17. Nigeria Union of Journalists v. Attorney-General of the Federation 1986 LRC (CONS)
18. Richard Akinnola v. General Ibrahim Babangida & 3 Ors. Suit No. M/482/93
19. Newspapers Registration Decree No. 43 of 1993
20. The Guardian Newspaper Ltd. v. Attorney-General of the Federation (Suit No. ID/525M/93.
21. Arthur Nwankwo v. The State (1985) 6NCLR 228

Author: Imoh Robert

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