By Udo Ibuot, Deputy Chief Sub-Editor

LAGOS — The Federal High Court has held that the Nigerian Press Council Decree No. 85 of 1992 as amended by the Nigeria Press Council (Amendment) Decree No. 60 of 1999, constituted a gross violation of the rights guaranteed under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, and was, therefore, unconstitutional, null and void.

The court which was presided over by Justice A. M. Liman, in a landmark judgment, said the Act was oppressive, over-bearing and grossly incompatible with civilised standard of society.

He, therefore, granted a perpetual injunction restraining the National Assembly from treating or continuing to treat the Nigerian Press Council Decree No. 85 of 1992 and the amended Nigerian Press Council (Amendment) Decree No. 60 of 1999 as existing laws deemed to be Acts of the National Assembly.

He also granted a perpetual injunction restraining the President, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Minister of Information, whether by themselves, their servants, agents and or representatives from implementing or otherwise giving effect in any manner whatsoever to provisions of the said Nigerian Press Council Decree No. 85 of 1992 and the Nigerian Press Council (Amendment) Decree No. 60 of 1999.

Justice Liman gave the judgment in suit No. FHC/L/CS/1324/99, instituted by Messrs. Ismaila Isa, Sam Amuka, Ray Ekpu, Ajibola Ogunshola, Nduka Obaigbena and Lade Bonuola, for themselves and on behalf of other members of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, against the President, Attorney-General of the Federation, Minister of Information and the National Assembly.

The Judge said: “I must hold that the total effect of the Nigerian Press Council Act, especially sections 3, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35 and 36, constitute a bullwark against the free expression of opinion, ideas and views whether by individual journalists or by the press, and this in my view constitutes a gross violation of the right guaranteed under Section 39 of the constitution.

“The Act has rather created an illicit ombudsman in the council, which will certainly be used to define and tailor the editorial directions and policies of the media. This is not the dream of our constitutional makers.

Free-speech country
“The dream is for a free speech country where views and opinions are shared openly, freely through any medium whatsoever without threat or sanction. The laws that specifically deprive the limit of these rights of speech are quite handy, in specific instances, to deal with those who abuse the rights.”

Justice Liman said the clear wording and spirit of the Nigerian Press Council law set out not only to professionalize the journalism practice, but also to establish a regime on how the press in Nigeria was to conduct itself in the manner of performing its operations.

He said the law clearly had the potential to restrict the expression of opinion of individual members of the press, and on the other hand to stall the development of ideas that have universally characterized the development of ideas.

He added: “There is no doubt in my mind that the Nigerian Press Council Act CAP N128, is potentially censorial; clearly the Act is capable of being used to restrict the guaranteed right under Section 39 of the constitution.”

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