Unresolved death of journalist Pelumi Onifade: MFWA, CPJ, IPI petition Lagos State Governor

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), together with two other media rights organisations, has petitioned the Governor of Lagos State in Nigeria, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, to intervene for justice to be done in the case of deceased journalist, Onifade Emmanuel Pelumi.

In a letter directly delivered to the office of the Governor, the petitioners, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI), prayed the Governor to have Pelumi’s body released to his family for burial and to ensure that proper investigations are carried out to identity and bring the perpetrators to justice.

“The continued refusal to release Pelumi’s body violates the family’s customary right to custody of the remains of their deceased kin so that they can provide a proper burial. The lack of disclosure on the exact circumstances of the journalist’s death also contravenes the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions.

“It is against this background that we request your intervention to get Pelumi’s body released to his family and ensure that the perpetrators of his killing are identified and held accountable,” the petition read.

Pelumi was a level- 200 History student of the Tai Solarin University of Education, Ogun State, who was interning as a reporter at Gboah TV, an online television channel based in Lagos at the time of his killing. On October 24, 2020, while on assignment covering the #EndSARS protests for Gboah TV, he was reportedly hit by a bullet and carried away in a police van. Six days later, on October 30, 2020, his body was discovered in a morgue at Ikorodudu, Lagos.

The petitioners referred Governor Sannwo-Olu to the Nigerian government’s obligation under various laws and international instruments to conduct effective and impartial investigations into incidents of attacks on journalists in Nigeria, as well as to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of such attacks.

“This obligation derives from Section 33 of Nigeria’s Constitution; Article 2(3) of ICCPR and Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty. Also, under the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, governments have a responsibility to adopt effective measures to protect and guarantee the safety of journalists. Furthermore, Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty and Principle 20 (1, 2, & 4) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, place an obligation on governments to protect journalists, guarantee their safety and ensure effective investigation, prosecution and punishment when journalists are attacked.”

The petition was copied to the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Culture, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police. So far, the Lagos State Ministry of Justice has promptly acknowledged the petition and assured that it is being attended to.

The petition forms part of the MFWA’s ongoing advocacy to get justice for Pelumi Onifade. On July 27, 2023, the MFWA issued this statement to mark the 1000th-day milestone of Onifade’s death.

Read the full petition here.

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