Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos asking it to order the Lagos State Government and Police authorities to launch a transparent, impartial and independent investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of Mr. Pelumi Onifade, a journalist killed in Lagos while covering the #EndSARS protests in October 2020, and direct them to identify and prosecute those responsible for killing him.
The late Mr. 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, and was working as an intern reporter with the privately owned Gboah TV.
He was covering the #EndSARS protests in Lagos for the television station, when he was shot on October 24, 2020 by policemen belonging to a Lagos State Government taskforce, arrested and taken away bleeding.
He apparently 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 Lagos State Commissioner of Police (COP), the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the Attorney-General of Lagos State, the organization is asking the court to determine whether:
· 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; and
· 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.
MRA said in the suit 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.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.