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Lekki shootings: CNN Warns Lagos Panel, says it has been excused

Cable News Network (CNN), Inc. has declined to make its team of reporters available to the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution of Victims of SARS Related Abuses and the Lekki Toll Gate shootings.
….It’s not true, we never excused CNN, says Panel
It objected to a Witness Summons by the panel requiring the reporters to appear before it Saturday, December 12, 2020, to give evidence on their reportage of the #EndSARS Lekki shooting.
 
The law firm representing the United States-based international news outfit in Nigeria, Messrs. Olumide Babalola LP, yesterday said the Tribunal lacks jurisdiction to summon CNN staff since they were not in Nigeria.
According to Mr. Babalola, he had written to, and the panel had taken note of the grounds of CNN’s objection and excused the company from complying with the summons.
 
But the panel told The Nation that it never excluded CNN from appearing before it and that the summons was still valid and pending.
On November 19, the media organisation published an investigation alleging that the Nigerian Army used live bullets on protesters during its intervention in the #EndSARS protest at Lekki in Lagos State.
Responding to the publication, the Federal Government and the army tagged the investigation as fake news, threatening to sanction the broadcaster for “irresponsible reporting.”
On November 23, in a letter addressed to CNN’s VP Communications Jonathan Hawkins, Minister of Information, Mr Lai Mohammed, said the report did not just fall short of journalistic standards but reinforced the disinformation making the rounds on the issue.
CNN issued a statement saying it stood by its report.
The network on November 14, did a second report with more footage, which it said showed soldiers shooting at unarmed protesters on October 20, 2020.
 
The CNN report was referenced at the panel by the Commander of the 81 Division, Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, Brig.-Gen. Ahmed Taiwo, during his defence of the army’s conduct at Lekki on October 20.
 
Taiwo contrasted CNN’s report with an opposing one by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and declared the former as false.
The CNN report was also referenced by #EndSARS protesters’ counsel Mr. Adesina Ogunlana in the course of the panel’s proceedings, necessitating the tribunal to summon the producers of the report.
In a statement yesterday, Babalola said the panel summoned CNN and its reporters on November 28 “to give evidence on their reportage of the EndSARS Lekki shooting.”
He said: “Upon service of the summons on CNN’s Lawyers, Messrs. Olumide Babalola LP, the international news outfit instructed their lawyers to file an objection on the ground that the Panel lacks jurisdiction to summon them since they are not in Nigeria.”
The objection dated 4th December 2020, was filed at the tribunal on December 9, 2020.
Babalola said: “The Objectors herewith place it on record that they were not at all material times and still not at the time of filing this objection, within the geographical territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“They do not have any physical or business presence in Nigeria and, by extension, are outside the territorial jurisdiction of this honourable Tribunal.
“The Objectors respectfully observed that the Summons to Witness dated 28 November 2020 was issued pursuant to the Tribunal’s powers donated by Section 5(c) of Tribunals Of Inquiry Law Of Lagos State.”
The section states: “Subject to the provisions of this Law, a Tribunal shall have the following powers – ‘5(c) to summon any person in Nigeria to attend any meeting of the Tribunal to give evidence or produce any document or other thing in his possession, subject to all just exceptions. summonses issued under this paragraph may be in Form A in the schedule to this Law and shall be served by the Police or by such person as the Tribunal may direct. (Emphasis ours)”
The lawyer contended that this meant neither CNN nor its reporters were subject to the panel’s jurisdiction.
 
Babalola said: “Flowing from the above authorities, we submit that since the Objectors are not ‘persons in Nigeria’ as envisaged by the provision of section 5(c), then this honourable Tribunal is, with respect, bereft of territorial jurisdiction to compel their attendance to give evidence before it.
“We rely on the decision in Joshua Dariye v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2015) LPELR-24398(SC), where the Supreme Court of Nigeria held that: ‘Territorial jurisdiction implies a geographical area within which the authority of the Court may be exercised and outside which the Court has no power to act. Jurisdiction, territorial or otherwise, is statutory and is conferred on the Court by the law creating it. Territorial jurisdiction may mean jurisdiction that a court may exercise over persons residing or carrying on business within a defined area, or in respect of a contract where its terms bring it within the area.”
The lawyer urged the panel to withdraw the summons issued on his clients and to instead, watch the CNN report on the Lekki shootings.
He said, “The objectors respectfully refer the tribunal to the link for the published version of the story as reported on their website, ‘How a bloody night of bullets quashed a young protest movement’ to aid the tribunal’s fact-finding mission.
Babalola claimed that when the Panel sat on Saturday, December 12, 2020, it invited him “into the Private Hearing Room” where he reiterated his objection and the Panel informed him that they would record the objection in their final report, “hence CNN was excused from further proceedings or appearing before the Panel.”
But the Tribunal’s secretary, Mr. Babajide Boye narrated a different version of events.
He confirmed that the panel summoned CNN to appear and that the network declined via a letter on the ground among others that it didn’t have an office in the country.
Boye said Babalola visited the panel yesterday to confirm, among others, that the letter emanated from his office.
The lawyer, he added, requested to speak with panel members and was told that his letter was well understood and would be taken care of in the report.
CNN, he explained, was not exempted from appearance.
Boye said: “No, CNN was never excused. In fact, the summons is still open if they want to come. They are the ones that refused to come.
They were not excused. It will be on record that the summons was sent to them and they refused to honour the summons. They are free to come. The summons is still open until it is honoured.”
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