Chidi Odinkalu, a Nigerian human rights advocate, has demanded an open trial in the case of “injurious falsehood” and incitement instituted against him by the Kaduna State Government.
The Chief Magistrate’s Court in Kaduna has been hearing the charges behind closed doors since they were filed at the apparent instance of Governor Nasir El-Rufai in March.
Mr El-Rufai had sparred with Mr Odinkalu, a former head of the National Human Rights Commission in February in a dispute over the number of people killed in an attack in Kajuru, Kaduna State.
Mr El-Rufai had said that about 66 Fulani residents were killed in the mid-February attack. The Nigerian Army later gave the same figure.
The police declined to give casualty estimates from the attack, but stated at the time that suspects had been taken into custody in connection with it.
Mr Odinkalu was amongst the prominent voices that faulted Mr El-Rufai for his comment on the attack.
The activist had contended that the governor’s claim of 66 deaths was suspicious because there was no immediate corroboration from other sources, especially traditional and religious leaders in the affected communities.
Subsequently, the Kaduna State authorities filed charges of injurious falsehood and incitement against Mr Odinkalu before a chief magistrate, seeking the activist’s imprisonment.
Mr Odinkalu’s lawyers have been attending hearings in the matter. He said the trial has been characterised by “unnecessary adjournments and secrecy”. Little progress has been made in the case seven months after it was filed.
At the last hearing on the matter on October 4, the defence attorneys reiterated their challenge on the jurisdiction of the court and also demanded that further hearing should be in an open court.
The hearing so far has been conducted in the chamber of the magistrate handling the matter, a situation Mr Odinkalu said was unacceptable for such litigation.
The next hearing was fixed for October 11, and Mr Odinkalu said his lawyers will emphasise it be conducted in the open.
Mr El-Rufai has sued a number of individuals for incitement and injurious falsehood since assuming office as Kaduna governor in 2015.
In March 2017, the governor complained to the police about Audu Maikori, an entertainment executive, after he shared a story of killing in Kaduna that turned out to be false.
In a recent case, Stephen Kefason, a social media commentator and critic of Mr El-Rufai, has spent more than 140 days in jail on allegations of injurious falsehood.
On Wednesday, he was taken back to prison after a court adjourned the case.
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