The ECOWAS Court of Justice has dismissed a suit brought by a registered NGO, the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda, requesting the Court to hold the Nigerian government liable for violation of the rights to life and freedom of expression of 11 journalists allegedly murdered at different times in the line of duty.

Justice Dupe Atoki, judge rapporteur who delivered the judgment on 4 March 2024, upheld the preliminary objection of the Respondent, Federal Republic of Nigeria, that the NGO lacked legal capacity to file the suit on behalf of the 11 deceased journalists identified in their initiating application.

Moreover, the NGO was not in a position to demand compensation for identified victims while it claimed to be suing in the interest of the public.

Both parties were ordered to bear their costs of litigation.

Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda through its lead counsel Mr. Darlington Onyekwere filed the case with suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/48/21 on 16 August 2021 alleging that the Nigerian government violated the rights to life and freedom of expression of the deceased journalists under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and sought an order directing the payment of 10 Million Naira as compensation to each of the victims’ family.

He also asked the Court to hold the Nigerian government liable for its failure to carry out an effective investigation leading to the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators the murders.

On their part, the Nigerian government raised a preliminary objection challenging the capacity of the NGO to bring the application before the Court since the NGO is neither a direct nor indirect victim of the rights allegedly violated. In addition, it argued that the NGO did not qualify to sue in a public interest capacity since the case was not one to which the “actio-popularis” (public interest action) principle was applicable.

In its judgment, the Court noted that while violations of freedom of expression particularly as it relates to journalists is matter of public interest, the application failed to fulfil the other conditions of admissibility and therefore  declared the action inadmissible.

Also on the panel were Justices Gberi-Bè Ouattara, presiding, and Sengu Mohamed Koroma, member.