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Friday, August 21, 2015

Court restrains National Assembly from issuing bench warrant against The Nation editor

A Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, Friday, stopped the National Assembly from issuing a bench warrant against the editor of The Nation Newspapers, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho.

The Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, had in a letter dated August 5, 2015, threatened to invoke Section 89(1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution against Omotosho, if he failed to willingly come before it to answer questions on a news features story published in the newspaper on July 30, 2015.

The Newspaper had published a titled “Motion: 22 APC Northern senators working against Buhari.”

Omotosho and the reporter who filed the story, Imam Bello, were subsequently directed “to appear before the committee unfailingly to prove the authenticity of your allegation” on August 11, 2015.

However, the applicants, considering the invitation as an infringement on their fundamental right to freedom of expression under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, approached the court, through their lawyer, Wahab Shittu, seeking to restrain the National Assembly from issuing a bench warrant to compel their appearance for interrogation.

moving the motion ex parte, Shittu, argued that Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution, which the National Assembly relied upon, did not confer any power on it to summon Omotosho, Bello and the publisher of the The Nation Newspapers, Vintage Press Limited, to answer any question.

According to shittu, The Nation got the information published in the story from competent sources, both formal and informal, adding that the newspaper was protected by law to conceal the identities of its sources in keeping with the ethics of journalism.

He further contended that rather than summon the applicants, the only available option opened to the National Assembly was to sue the applicants for libel or slander if it thought that it had valid claims.

“My Lord, the right of the applicants to freedom of expression and the press, guaranteed under Section 39 of the Constitution, is about to be or threatened to be infringed upon except Your Lordship intervenes very decisively and quickly.

“My Lord, if the respondents have any cause to challenge the content of the story, they can go to court and sue for libel.

“Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution that they are purportedly relying upon to summon the applicants does not give them any power to take any step against the applicants,” Shittu argued.

Shittu urged the court to grant the application, adding that the applicants risked being ridiculed except the court intervened.

Justice Mohammed Yunusa, after listening to Shittu, ruled that he found the application to be meritorious, therefore restrained the National Assembly from issuing a bench warrant against the applicants pending the determination of the main suit.

The case was subsequently adjourned till August 28, 2015.

[ Timothy Enietan-Matthews, Daily Post ]

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