A Lagos Federal High Court yesterday barred the National Assembly from issuing a bench warrant against the editor of The Nation Newspaper, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho.
The Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions had in a letter dated August 5, 2015, threatened to invoke Section 89(1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution against Omotosho if he failed to come before it to answer questions on a news features story captioned “Motion: 22 APC Northern senators working against Buhari,” published in the newspaper edition of July 30, 2015.
The Committee had directed Omotosho and the reporter who filed the story, Imam Bello, to appear before the to prove the authenticity of their “allegation” on August 11, 2015.
But yesterday, the applicants, who considered the senate invitation as an infringement of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, through their lawyer, Wahab Shittu, want Justice Mohammed Yunusa, to restrain the National Assembly from issuing a bench warrant to compel their appearance for interrogation.
Shittu, while moving the ex parte application, contended that Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution, which the National Assembly relied upon, did not confer any power on it to summon Omotosho, Bello and the publisher of the The Nation Newspapers, Vintage Press Limited, to answer any question.
The applicants maintained that their median, The Nation newspaper, got the information published in the story from competent sources, both formal and informal, adding that the newspaper was protected by law to conceal the identities of its sources in keeping with the ethics of journalism.
They also argued that rather than been summoned, the only available option opened to the National Assembly, was to sue them, for libel or slander if the National Assembly thought that it had valid claims.
Shittu while urging the court to stop the National Assembly from issuing bench warrant against his clients said; “my Lord, the right of the applicants to freedom of expression and the press, guaranteed under Section 39 of the Constitution, is about to be or threatened to be infringed upon except Your Lordship intervenes very decisively and quickly.
“If the respondents have any cause to challenge the content of the story, they can go to court and sue for libel. Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution that they are purportedly relying upon to summon the applicants does not give them any power to take any step against the applicants.”
Shittu therefore urged the court to grant the application, to avoid the applicants from the risk of being ridiculed.


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