A former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, has lost the fundamental human rights case he filed against the Kaduna State Government.
Justice Peter Malong of the Kaduna Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday dismissed the case and awarded costs against Mr Odinkalu.
In the ruling, Justice Malong upheld the state government’s argument that Mr Odinkalu’s affidavit was incompetent because it was not personally deposed by him.
The court therefore asked Mr Odinkalu to pay cost to each of the four respondents in the case.
Mr Odinkalu’s lawyer, Ballason Gloria Mabeiam, said on Twitter Thursday that the cost awarded against her client is N5000 (five thousand naira) to each of the respondents. But the lawyers to the Kaduna State Government said it is N500,000 per respondent.
The respondents are the director of public prosecution, Kaduna State; the governor of Kaduna State; the commissioner of police in the state and the inspector-general of police.
Ms Mabeiam also said her clients would appeal the judgment. She could not be reached Thursday night for further comments on the judgment.
Her known telephone number failed to connect while she is yet to respond to messages sent to her via Facebook and WhatsApp platforms.
Mr Odinkalu too is yet to respond to calls and a WhatsApp message sent to him.
In February 2019, Mr Odinkalu spoke on live television about events in Kajuru local government area of Kaduna State.
He contested an announcement by Governor Nasir El-Rufai that the state government had received reports of casualties in the area.
Mr Odinkalu insisted that his sources told him nothing happened in the area, and accused the state government of making up the story for electoral gain.
The Kaduna Government, in March 2019, approached a magistrate court to summon Mr Odinkalu while accusing him of offences that include injurious falsehood, inciting disturbance and furnishing false information.
The government said the offences are punishable under sections 77, 373, 104 and 150 of the Penal Code Law of Kaduna State.
The state government also applied for and secured an order of the court for the police to investigate the allegations against Mr Odinkalu and report the outcome to the court.
Mr Odinkalu lost his first effort to quash the case as the magistrate court dismissed his preliminary objection and assumed jurisdiction to hear and determine the case.
He also lost his attempt to have his fundamental rights case to be heard in Abuja, as the trial judge at the Federal Hight Court transferred the matter to its Kaduna Division.
Court papers indicate that Mr Odinkalu has also approached the Kaduna High Court to quash his trial by the Chief Magistrate Court. Hearing in this application for judicial review is expected to resume next week.
Ahead of Thursday’s judgment, an array of individuals and local and international organizations had circulated a joint statement describing Mr Odinkalu’s trial as a breach of his rights to freedom of expression.
The group had urged the court to consider the case as an opportunity for the judiciary to reinforce the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and civic participation.
It said the case brought by Mr Odinkalu would have important impact on the rights of people in Nigeria to voice their opinions in matters of public interest and question those in authority.
The organisations and individuals had also urged the judiciary to ensure that the protection of human rights aligns with the Nigeria’s constitutional, regional and international human rights obligations.