Joint Civil Society Statement in the Case of Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu v. Kaduna State: An Opportunity to Protect Free Speech in Nigeria

On October 22, 2020, an important case comes for decision before the Federal High Court sitting in Kaduna, north-west Nigeria. The case – brought by Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu – will have an important impact on the rights of people in Nigeria to voice their opinions in matters of public interest and question those in authority. We, the undersigned organisations and individuals, see this upcoming case as an opportunity for Nigeria’s judiciary to ensure that the protection of human rights in the country aligns with the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s constitutional, regional and international human rights obligations. In particular, this case provides an opportunity for the judiciary to reinforce the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and civic participation.

The case before the Federal High Court challenges the constitutionality of criminal charges against Prof. Odinkalu, a renowned Nigerian human rights lawyer and former Chairperson of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, following a televised interview he gave in February 2019 in Abuja, the Federal Capital. In the interview, Prof. Odinkalu challenged claims by the Governor of Kaduna State Mallam Nasir El-Rufai – made a day before scheduled elections in the State – that 66 members of the Fulani ethnic group had been killed in Kajuru, Kaduna State. Prof. Odinkalu stated that the Governor’s statement appeared to have no basis in reality and could not be verified by the relevant state agents. He further expressed concern that the statement could cause ethnic tensions leading to electoral violence.

Following the televised interview, on March 18, 2019, Prof. Odinkalu was charged by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) of Kaduna State with inciting disturbance, injurious falsehood, public nuisance, and furnishing false information. The case, which was initiated before the Magistrate Court in Kaduna, was fraught with numerous procedural irregularities including an undated case file with no file number; closed hearings from the public; and the continuation of the case in the absence of Prof. Odinkalu despite an order from the High Court staying proceedings in the case. On October 26, 2020, the State High Court of Kaduna will preside over the judicial review of the criminal proceedings in the Magistrate Court of Kaduna.

The judgment of the Federal High Court on October 22, 2020 presents a monumental opportunity for the court to recognise the right to freedom of expression and ensure that it is enforced in Kaduna State in accordance with the country’s human rights obligations. Government officials and people in authority are not exempt or protected from criticism. United Nations special experts and mechanisms have specifically highlighted in reference to Nigeria, which includes all its Federal States, that public officials are required to tolerate greater criticism than the rest of society and that actions taken by them should not stifle public debate. While the right to freedom of expression may be restricted for public health and public security reasons, such restrictions – even when provided for by law – must be justifiable in a democratic society and must be necessary to achieve the stated purpose. Furthermore, any limitations must be the least restrictive means to achieve the objective.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has held that seeking to impose a prison sentence, let alone corporal punishments such as lashings, for criticism of a public authority – whether true or otherwise – can never be necessary or proportional. Regional and international bodies have further called on all States to repeal criminal defamation laws, as well as all laws which effectively criminalise defamation, sedition, insult and false news. Where necessary, such infractions can and should be dealt with through civil proceedings, which should also be adequately proportionate and provide appropriate defences.

Given Nigeria’s regional and international obligations, as a signatory to several treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, we are concerned that the Kaduna State government chose to undertake a criminal prosecution against Prof. Odinkalu for what is clearly protected speech. The undersigned organisations and individuals thus look forward to the decision of the Federal High Court of Nigeria in this important case.

Organisations

  1. African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
  2. African Defenders (Pan African HRDs Network)
  3. African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
  4. Africa Judges and Jurists Forum
  5. AJPD – Angola
  6. Amnesty International
  7. Center for Democracy and Development (CDD)
  8. Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA)
  9. Chapter One Foundation
  10. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  11. DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
  12. Friends of Angola (FoA)
  13. Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED)
  14. Global Rights
  15. Human Rights Defenders Network-SL
  16. Human Rights Institute of Southern Africa (HURISA)
  17. International Commission of Jurists- Kenya
  18. International Refugee Rights Initiative 
  19. Kenya Human Rights Commission
  20. Media Rights Agenda
  21. MOSAIKO-Angola
  22. Mouvement Inamohoro, Femmes et Filles pour la paix et la sécurité
  23. Open Bar Initiative, Nigeria
  24. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
  25. Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
  26. Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL) Nigeria
  27. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  28. SADC Lawyers Association
  29. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
  30. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  31. Tap Nitiative for Citizens Development
  32. The Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS-USA)
  33. Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)
  34. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
  35. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

Individuals    

  1. Delma Monteiro                                 Angola
  2. Lúcia da Silveira                                 Angola
  3. Garcia Mvemba                                  Angola
  4. Godinho Cristóvão                             Angola
  5. Julio Candieiro                                   Angola
  6. Fortunato Paixão                                 Angola
  7. Cristina Gouveia                                 Angola
  8. Alice Mogwe                                      Botswana
  9. Marie Louise Baricaco                       Burundi
  10. Star Rugori                                          Burundi          
  11. Joseph Bikanda                                   Cameroon
  12. Ady Namaran Coulibaly                     Cote d’Ivoire
  13. Hannah Forster                                   Gambia
  14. Edmund Amarkwei Foley                  Ghana 
  15. Abdul Noormohamed                         Kenya
  16. Andrew Songa                                    Kenya
  17. Crystal Simeoni                                  Kenya 
  18. Diana Gichengo                                  Kenya
  19. Donald Deya                                       Kenya
  20. Irene Soila                                           Kenya
  21. James Gondi                                       Kenya
  22. Maureen Achieng Akena                    Kenya 
  23. Patricia Nyaundi                                 Kenya
  24. Roland Ebole                                      Kenya
  25. Charles Kajoloweka                            Malawi
  26. Happy Mhango                                   Malawi
  27. Nikiwe Kaunda                                   Malawi           
  28. Tiseke Kasambala                              Malawi
  29. Victor Mhango                                    Malawi           
  30. Professor Adriano Nuvunga               Mozambique
  31. Custodio Duma                                   Mozambique  
  32. Vicente Manjate                                 Mozambique
  33. Norman Tjombe                                 Namibia
  34. Abdul Mahmud                                   Nigeria
  35. Abiodun Baiyewu                               Nigeria
  36. Ariyo-Dare Atoye                               Nigeria
  37. Cheta Nwanze                                     Nigeria
  38. Chido Onumah                                   Nigeria
  39. Edet Ojo                                              Nigeria
  40. Mbasekei Martin Obono                     Nigeria
  41. Nana Nwachukwu                              Nigeria
  42. Ohimai Amaize                                   Nigeria
  43. Omoyele Sowore                                Nigeria
  44. Steven Kefason                                   Nigeria
  45. Valnora Edwin                                    Sierra Leone
  46. Annah Moyo                                       South Africa
  47. Corlett Letlojane                                 South Africa
  48. Hakima Haithar                                  South Africa
  49. Nomsa Sizane                                     South Africa
  50. Samkelo Mokhine                               South Africa
  51. Simphiwe Sidu                                    South Africa
  52. Shuvai Nyoni                                      South Africa
  53. Sufiya Bray                                         South Africa
  54. Vusumuzi Sifile                                  South Africa
  55. Abdel-Moniem El Jak                        Sudan 
  56. Mary Pais                                            Swaziland
  57. Muzi Masuku                                      Swaziland
  58. Thulani Maseko                                  Swaziland
  59. Vera Mshana                                       Tanzania
  60. Dismas Nkunda                                  Uganda
  61. Jackson Odong                                    Uganda
  62. Lamunu Lamunu Prossy                     Uganda
  63. Nelly Badaru                                       Uganda
  64. Salima Namusobya                             Uganda
  65. Sharon Nakandha                                Uganda
  66. Linda Kasonde                                    Zambia
  67. Professor Michelo Hansungule           Zambia
  68. Muleya Mwananyanda                       Zambia
  69. Muluka Miti-Drummond                    Zambia
  70. Vusumuzi Sifile                                  Zambia           
  71. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge                Zimbabwe
  72. Arnold Tsunga                                    Zimbabwe
  73. Brian Tamuka Kagoro                                    Zimbabwe
  74. Makanatsa Makonese                         Zimbabwe
  75. Charles Clint Chimedza                     Zimbabwe
  76. Deprose Muchena                               Zimbabwe
  77. Fungisayi Patricia Mwanyisa             Zimbabwe
  78. Hardlife Mudzingwa                           Zimbabwe
  79. Janah Ncube                                       Zimbabwe
  80. Janet Zhou                                           Zimbabwe
  81. Kelvin Kabaya                                    Zimbabwe
  82. Lloyd Kuveya                                     Zimbabwe
  83. Mamukeleni Tsunga                           Zimbabwe
  84. Memory Zonde-Kachambwa              Zimbabwe
  85. Mooya Nyaundi                                  Zimbabwe
  86. Muchengeti Hwacha                           Zimbabwe
  87. Munjodzi Mutandiri                            Zimbabwe
  88. Musa Kika                                          Zimbabwe
  89. Otto Saki                                             Zimbabwe
  90. Passmore Nyakureba                          Zimbabwe
  91. Siphosami Malunga                            Zimbabwe
  92. Stanely Nyamanindi                           Zimbabwe
  93. Professor Carl LeVan                         American University 
  94. Desiree Cormier Smith                       Open Society Foundations

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