The debate over the propriety of the suspension placed on Twitter by the Federal Government of Nigeria, moved to the court on Tuesday. A non-governmental organization, NGO, Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project,. SERAP has filed a case against the ban at the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS international court of justice, Abuja.
Human rights advocate, Femi Falana, SAN, who represents SERAP and 176 concerned Nigerians is asking the court to declare the ban as a violation of human rights, international law and illegal.
Following the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed last week announced the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. The government also threatened to arrest and prosecute anyone using Twitter in the country, while the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has asked all broadcast stations to suspend the patronage of Twitter.
In the suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21 filed today before the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja, SERAP and the concerned Nigerians are seeking: “An order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing its suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and subjecting anyone including media houses, broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria, to harassment, intimidation, arrest and criminal prosecution, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”
In the suit filed by Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana SAN, the Plaintiffs contend that “if this application is not urgently granted, the Federal Government will continue to arbitrarily suspend Twitter and threaten to impose criminal and other sanctions on Nigerians, telecommunication companies, media houses, broadcast stations and other people using Twitter in Nigeria, the perpetual order sought in this suit might be rendered nugatory.”
The suit reads in part: “The suspension of Twitter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter and other social media platforms to assess government policies, expose corruption, and criticize acts of official impunity by the agents of the Federal Government.
“The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censor or restraints, and to inform public opinion. The public also has a corresponding right to receive media output.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and the full enjoyment of this right is central to achieving individual freedom and to developing democracy. It is not only the cornerstone of democracy, but indispensable to a thriving civil society.
“The arbitrary action by the Federal Government and its agents have negatively impacted millions of Nigerians who carry on their daily businesses and operational activities on Twitter. The suspension has also impeded the freedom of expression of millions of Nigerians, who criticize and influence government policies through the microblogging app.
“The suspension of Twitter is arbitrary, and there is no law in Nigeria today permitting the prosecution of people simply for peacefully exercising their human rights through Twitter and other social media platforms.
“The suspension and threat of prosecution by the Federal Government constitute a fundamental breach of the country’s international human rights obligations including under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.
“The suspension has seriously undermined the ability of Nigerians and other people in the country to freely express themselves in a democracy, and undermined the ability of journalists, media houses, broadcast stations, and other people to freely carry out their professional duties.
“A lot of Nigerians at home and abroad rely on Twitter coverage of topical issues of public interest to access impartial, objective and critical information about ideas and views on how the Nigerian government is performing its constitutional and international human rights obligations.
“The implication of the decline in freedom of expression in Nigeria is that the country is today ranked alongside countries hostile to human rights and media freedom such as Afghanistan, Chad, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Colombia.
SERAP and the concerned Nigerians are therefore asking the ECOWAS Court of Justice for the following reliefs among others.
A DECLARATION that the action of the Defendant and its agents in suspending the operation of Twitter or any other social media and microblogging application without an order of a competent court of jurisdiction is unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.