Thursday, April 18, 2024

Court dismisses Odinkalu’s fundamental rights suit against Kaduna

The foremost rights expert is filing an appeal after a federal judge ruled he did not personally depose to an affidavit filed before the court.

• October 22, 2020
El Rufai and Chidi Odinkalu
El Rufai and Chidi Odinkalu

Nigeria’s frontline rights activist Chidi Odinkalu has lost a fundamental rights case which his lawyers instituted against the Kaduna State Government at the Federal High Court.

Mr. Odinkalu, a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, was also asked to pay N5,000 to each of the four defendants in the case, his lawyer Gloria Ballason said in a statement. 

Another report from Kaduna authorities claimed Mr. Odinkalu was asked to pay N500,000 each to the defendants, who include Governor Nasir El-Rufai and the police.

But Ms. Ballason insisted to Peoples Gazette that it was N5,000 that Mr. Odinkalu was asked to pay.

“He lied,” the lawyer said of Mr. El-Rufai, whose official Twitter handle had posted the N500,000 claim on Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Odinkalu sought to enforce his fundamental rights to free speech before the Kaduna Division of the Federal High Court after Mr. El-Rufai filed charges of injurious falsehood against the rights expert.

The case stemmed from a comment Mr. Odinkalu made on television in 2019 that contradicted claims by Mr. El-Rufai that Nigerians of Fulani origin were killed in a Southern Kaduna community.

Mr. Odinkalu said he spoke with multiple people in the area who debunked the governor’s claim, and suggested that it was made in a bid to elicit sympathy from the electorate.

Kaduna State initially filed the charges before a magistrate’s court that lacked independence from government interference, with the case being heard without a case number amongst other technical flaws. 

Mr. Odinkalu’s efforts to get the lower court off the case was frustrated by Mr. El-Rufai, who has continued to use state assets to push the case. 

With Justice Peter Malong quashing the rights enforcement case today, Mr. Odinkalu now looks forward to a ruling on another judicial review process due next week.

Ms. Ballason said her client would appeal today’s case in the meantime. 

Mr. El-Rufai is a ruling party politician with a history of deploying state assets to suppress any speech he deemed objectionable, but Mr. Odinkalu’s case has drawn notable interest amongst free speech advocates across the world, with a few of them issuing a statement earlier this week ahead of today’s ruling.

The statement, whose signatories included Pan African Lawyers Union and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, said the Nigerian judiciary has been handed a key opportunity to make a bold statement on free speech with Mr. Odinkalu’s case. 

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