A judge in the Igbosere Magistrates Court, Lagos, H. O. Amos, on March 5, 2017, sacked a reporter of the Vanguard newspaper, Onozure Dania, from the courtroom for covering proceedings he was presiding without prior permission.
The judge also insisted that he must vet the reporter’s script before it can be published.
Onozure Dania had gone to the Magistrates Court to cover a case in which an applicant was seeking to withdraw surety for a defendant. In the course of the proceeding, court registrar informed the judge about the presence of the journalist. Amos, who is reported to have a reputation for barring media personnel from his court, abruptly stopped the proceedings and asked the journalist to identify herself.
After Onozure mentioned her name and identified herself as a journalist, the Judge asked her to declare her interest in the case, to which Onozure responded:
“I have no interest in the matter. I cover the judiciary and that is why I am here.”
The judge further asked whether Onozure obtained permission from him before entering the courtroom.
“I don’t need to take permission as the court is a public place. I cover even the high courts and I have never been asked if I took permission before covering proceedings in the high court,” Onozure replied.
The judge then instructed: “If you want to write anything from this court, I must vet it before it is published,” the judge instructed. When Onozure protested against this demand, the judge ordered her out of the courtroom.
About a year ago, on February 8, 2016, the same judge ordered a group of journalists out of his court and demanded written permission before they could access the courtroom to cover proceedings.
Journalists often face hostility from court officials and persons involved in disputes at the courts. They are sometimes assaulted just for performing their professional duties. On January 10, 2017, for instance, security officials on duty at a Federal High Court in Abuja denied a group of journalists entry into the courtroom, leading to noisy protests. When the journalists were eventually allowed, they could follow the proceedings only from behind a curtain.
The MFWA considers as a dangerous precedent, Judge Amos’ bid to introduce censorship in his court, and commend the courage of Onazure in rejecting that attempt.
We urge the judicial authorities in Nigeria to call to order overzealous security officials, court clerks, registrars and judges who frustrate journalists at the various courts when they are carrying out their work. We believe that setting up a judicial press corps and the designation of a specific seating place in the courts for the media would help sanitise the situation.