Nigeria: El-Rufai - Ex-Human Rights Commission Chief Odinkalu Challenges Court Jurisdiction Over Trial

17 October 2019

A Nigerian human rights advocate, Chidi Odinkalu, has challenged the jurisdiction of the Chief Magistrate hearing 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 matter since the charges were filed in March.

However, with the prosecuting counsels representing the state not in court, Gloria Ballason, the lawyer to Mr Odinkalu, argued that they have been placed on notice to appear and as such, they have waived their rights to respond to the objection the defendant had raised.

Arguing on point of law, Ms Ballason said the defendant was challenging the jurisdiction of the Magistrate.

"The subject matter for this suit as found in the Application For Criminal Direct Complaint is an interview granted by the Defendant on 16th February, 2019 on Channels Television Broadcast, is a Federal matter as can be seen in the 66th item on the Exclusive Legislative List. This Court therefore lacks subject matter jurisdiction on the matter before it," she told the court.

"The emission and broadcast took place in Abuja not in Kaduna. This court lacks territorial jurisdiction on the matter," she added.

"The primary power to sanction broadcast violators is with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). There is nothing in the proof of evidence to show that the NBC complained about violation of the code," she said.

The lawyer further argued that as long as the broadcast did not breach the NBC code of conduct, "no issue of crime could be raised".

"Nasir el-Rufai, the person deemed to be the nominal complainant if sufficiently aggrieved, could have lodged a complaint with the NBC rather than seek to take over their job. This suit by the governor is therefore an institutional overreach, we urge the court to so hold," she said.

After her presentation the presiding magistrate, Ibrahim Musa, adjourned to November 7 for ruling on the matter.

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Mr El-Rufai had verbally sparred with Mr Odinkalu, a former head of the National Human Rights Commission in February over the number of people killed in an attack in Kajuru, Kaduna State.

The governor 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 of the attack, but stated at the time that suspects had been taken into custody in connection with it.

Mr Odinkalu was amongst the 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 seeking the activist's imprisonment.

Mr Odinkalu's lawyers have been attending hearings on the matter.

He said the trial has been characterised by "unnecessary adjournments and secrecy" and little progress has been made in the case seven months after it was filed.

Mr El-Rufai has equally sued some 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.

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