With support from UNESCO’s Global Media Defence Fund, CRNI has recruited a new network of Legal Experts around the world, both practicing lawyers and academics, these bolstering our existing roster of Regional Representative cartoonists. In a series of interviews we get to know a selection of these experts better; today’s subject is Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, managing partner at M.O.N. Legal, Nigeria. Ms. Ogunlana-Nkanga specialises in human rights, press freedom, digital rights and gender rights. She is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the West Africa Media Lawyers Association (WAMELA), the Internet Society of Nigeria and the Nigerian Internet Governance Forum.
1. Our cartoonists are consistently expressing anxiety about criminalisation. In your view, are they right to be worried?
In my view, criminalization depends on the political atmosphere in the country for individual cartoonist. In Nigeria, it is obvious that the government, though democratic, is adverse to constructive criticism which should ordinarily propel it to meeting the demands of its people. The government has continued to clamp down on the media by promulgating different gagging policies and I totally believe that once cartoonists become a threat to it, they will also be criminalized under the various repressive laws and regulations in operation. And these are many!
2. What is the greatest impediment to freedom of expression in your location?
The greatest impediment to freedom of expression in Nigeria is the government. The interesting thing is that the government is well aware of that criticism and swore to be guided by democratic principles, but they have consistently acted contrary to democratic tenets. In fact, freedom of expression is endangered in Nigeria and we are at a period in our history where we have seen the government commit apparent violence against people exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression. There are a plethora of examples, one being the #EndSARS incident. Also the government tolerates an atmosphere of impunity to the extent that the life of media practitioners is consistently at risk of reprisal.
3. Describe the work of your firm; in particular tell us about any efforts on behalf of minority or marginalised people.
M.O.N Legal is a law firm committed to digital rights, press/media freedom and human rights. I have been defending journalists, and especially their freedom of expression since 2015. I am passionate about human rights, particularly on freedom of expression and press freedom.
4. Do you consider yourself a human rights defender (HRD)? If so and you are at liberty to describe the experience, have you been the victim of harassment or threat because of your work?
I couldn’t describe myself otherwise! Human rights are at the core of my being. It’s what I do, what I see, what I believe, it’s the ultimate. I have been defending human rights since I went into private practice. But it is a specific part of the law that is usually less financially rewarding in Nigeria and so a lot of people focus on other areas where the road to success is faster. However as a human rights defender the major fulfilment you get is in the preservation of the democratic nature of the Nigerian Constitution and in the promotion, protection and practice of rule of law and due process.
Fortunately, I haven’t been a constant victim of harassment but I have had one or two experiences with law enforcement agencies, particularly the Nigerian police, when trying to defend the rights of a client. They can put you under undue pressure because they have no great respect for the role of lawyers.
5. Have you been involved in any note-worthy cases concerning cartoonists, artists or journalists?
I have had the opportunity to represent nine international NGOs and David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, who were granted leave of court to act as amici curiae at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in the case of Federation of African Journalists & others v. The Gambia in 2016. The firm also undertook the landmark case Amnesty International Togo v. The Togolese Republic, where the Court stated that the people of Togo have the right to internet access.
6. Have you a favourite cartoonist? If so who, and what do you admire about them?
Yes, I find the work of Mike Asukwo very deep and impressive. His consistency in highlighting the political atmosphere in Nigeria is inspiring. Mike is a celebrated journalist in Nigeria. In reading up on him I recently discovered the Cartoonist Association of Nigeria, CARTAN. Their organisation will be of interest going forward.
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