Judge stops Senate's move to summon The Nation journalists

Date: 2015-08-22

Justice Mohammed Yunusa of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Friday, granted an interim injunction restraining the Senate from summoning The Nation's journalists over an article the newspaper published recently.

In his ruling, the judge barred the Upper House of parliament from ?compelling the journalists to produce any material or documents in respect of the article. ?"I have considered the processes filed and the constitutional provisions relied on. I hold the view that the application has merit and is hereby granted," the judge said, while adjourning till August 28 for report of compliance.

Gbenga Omotoso, Editor of The Nation, and Imam Bello, a Correspondent, had been ordered to appear before the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions over a story - Motion: 22 APC Senators 'Working Against Buhari.' Vintage Press Limited (the publisher of The Nation), Messrs Omotoso and Bello had filed a suit challenging the directive by the Senate to appear before it.

Joined as respondents are the National Assembly and the Senate. According to The Nationís report, 22 Northern senators elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress had been identified as? "teaming up with the opposition to work against President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling party." Quoting unnamed sources, the newspapers accused the APC senators of aligning with 46 of their counterparts from the Peoples' Democratic Party to pass a vote of confidence on the Senate leadership headed by Bukola Saraki (APC, Kwara) and Ike Ekweremmadu (PDP, Enugu).

?Following an August 4 letter, the Senate again wrote to Vintage Press on August 11 threatening to invoke Section 89 (1) (D) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to compel the journalists to appear before its committee. While granting an order of interim injunction, Mr. Yunusa? restrained the respondents, whether by themselves, their members, committees or agents from summoning or directing the appearance of the applicants or any of their agents before any Senate Committee.

The judge also restrained the respondents from issuing a warrant to compel the journalists' attendance before the Senate Committee set up to investigate the publication.

The order, the judge held, is to remain in force pending the hearing and determination of the applicants' motion on notice. Earlier, in his argument before the court, Wahab Shittu, the applicants' counsel stated that unless the respondents were restrained, there is a likelihood of breaching his clients' fundamental rights to receive and impart information as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The National Assembly had not disputed, challenged, or issued a rejoinder to the article or made a formal complaint over it, according to Mr. Shittu.

?"Rather than react to the story or deny it, the Senate wrote to the applicants directing them to compulsorily appear before the committee or risk being arrested," the lawyer said.

"The story, which is of national interest, was published based on anonymous but informed sources who cannot be disclosed to anyone in line with the ethics of journalism.

"The rights of the applicants to freedom of expression and the press guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution is about to be infringed upon except your Lordship interferes quickly before one of the country's leading newspapers is brought to ridicule.

ďIf they (respondents) have any cause to challenge the story, they can go to court and sue for libel. They also have a right to publish a rejoinder. Unless your Lordship restrains them, they will issue a Bench warrant and our clients will be embarrassed beyond repair. "We urge your Lordship to grant the reliefs in the interim so that they will not foist a fait accompli on the honourable court," Mr. Shittu said.

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