Re: A Vacuous Judgment On Dele Giwa

By Idowu Adewale

On Sunday, February 25, 2024, ThisDay newspaper published an article titled “A Vacuous Judgment on Dele Giwa” suggesting that the judgment of Honourable Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, delivered on February 16, 2024 in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1301/2021: Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda v Attorney-General of the Federation, is a futile decision.

Although the newspaper conceded in the article that “liability for crime has no time lag or statute bar”, it nonetheless took the view that the court’s decision, in effect ordering a re-opening of investigations into the gruesome murder of the renowned journalist, Mr. Dele Giwa, more than 37 years after the incident, including the order that the perpetrators be brought to justice, “does not really excite many people who knew how muddled up this matter had been.”

We respectfully disagree at Media Rights Agenda and feel compelled to respond to the article so that we can offer a different perspective as we believe that it took an overly narrow view of the matter.

Firstly, for purposes of accuracy and completeness, it is important to note that the February 16, 2024 judgment by Honourable Justice Ekwo was not about Dele Giwa alone. There were seven named journalists who have been killed in the last few decades and whose killings remain unresolved, that were referenced in the suit and in the judgment of the court. However, the judgment of the court applies to all journalists and other media practitioners killed over the years as well as journalists and other media practitioners who have been victims of other forms of attacks.

In effect, even if one anticipates some difficulty in conducting a conclusive or successful investigation into one or more of these killings, that would not render the judgment vacuous as it offers the possibility of a successful investigation into many other cases that have remained uninvestigated, including some very recent killings.

But more importantly, there is absolutely nothing vacuous about a judgment of a court that reaffirms the principle, established under regional and international instruments, that there should be no impunity for crimes against journalists and other media practitioners; and that validates the responsibility which States bear to properly investigate crimes against journalists and other media practitioners and ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished in accordance with the Law. There is nothing vacuous about a judgment which seeks to compel the Government of Nigeria to perform this statutory and constitutional duty, which also constitutes an international treaty obligation.

The judgment of the court enures to the benefit of all journalists and other media practitioners who have been victims of attacks in the past as well as for those who may similarly be attacked in the future. We believe this to be a very important point that the article missed completely.

The court’s decision reflects a commitment to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that those responsible for crimes against journalists and other media practitioners, including such gruesome acts as occurred in Dele Giwa’s case, are held accountable, regardless of the time that has passed.

It is a commitment that should be applauded, encouraged and nurtured, no matter how late in coming we may consider it to be.

While the Nigerian legal system faces challenges and skepticism about the effectiveness of investigations, especially considering the historical context of Dele Giwa’s case. It is crucial to recognise that justice delayed should not be justice denied.

The reopening of the investigation into Dele Giwa’s case specifically as well as other cases that may have gone cold, provides an opportunity to re-examine these cases with a new approach, utilising advancements in forensic technology and investigative techniques that may not have been available in the past.

The ThisDay newspaper’s article questions the existence and reliability of police files, raising doubts about the feasibility of a successful investigation. While acknowledging historical challenges, it is essential to note that improvements in record-keeping practices and technological advancements may facilitate a more thorough and comprehensive inquiry. The fear of challenges should not be a reason not to try.

The reference by the article to the Oputa Panel and the obstacles faced in compelling key figures to testify with respect to the Dele Giwa case is a valid one. However, the circumstances surrounding the Oputa Panel should not impede the current efforts to pursue justice through the legal system.

The court’s decision is an independent initiative, and any failures in the past should not serve as a deterrent to the pursuit of truth and justice today.

We firmly believe that the reopening of the investigation into Dele Giwa’s murder is a positive development that reflects the judiciary’s commitment to ensuring that justice prevails, regardless of the challenges faced. It is an opportunity to demonstrate that our system of justice can evolve and adapt to address unresolved cases, providing hope to victims’ families and fostering public confidence in the pursuit of justice.

We are excited about the judgment and committed to ensuring that it is complied with by the relevant authorities.

Idowu Adewale is Communications Officer for Media Rights Agenda.