Nigerian gov’t dragged to ECOWAS Court over Twitter ban

The Nigerian Government was on Monday in Abuja sued by five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and four journalists at the ECOWAS…

The Nigerian Government was on Monday in Abuja sued by five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and four journalists at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja over the suspension of the use of Twitter in Nigeria.In the suit, the applicants asked the court to declare the indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria a violation of their human rights under the international law.

They also prayed the court to order the Nigerian Government to immediately rescind the suspension order and compensate them for the violation of their rights.

The five NGOs are the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the International Press Centre (IPC), and Tap Initiative for Citizens Development (TICD).

And the journalists involved in the suit are David Hundeyin, Samuel Ogundipe, Blessing Oladunjoye, and Nwakamri Apollo.

According to local media reports on Monday, the suit, lodged with number ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21 ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21, in a 73-page documentation, was filed on their behalf by Abuja-based human rights and free expression lawyer, Mojirayo Nkanga, under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, and the Nigerian Constitution, among others.

The reports added that the applicants claimed that Nigeria’s ongoing suspension of Twitter, which came into effect on or around June 4, violated their right to freedom of expression and interfered with the ability of the journalists to do their work.

They also alleged that the general situation in Nigeria with respect to human rights has created an environment where freedom of expression was stifled and that it has contributed to creating a chilling effect on press and media freedom.

Nigeria, according to the applicants, has consented to be bound by the obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression under the ICCPR and the ACHPR and therefore, any limitation imposed by the government on the right to freedom of expression can only be justifiable where the restriction is provided by law, serves a legitimate aim, and is necessary and proportionate in a democratic society.

They, therefore, asked the court to declare the indefinite suspension of Twitter a continuous violation of their human rights under international law, particularly the right to seek and receive information, as well as the right to express and disseminate opinions under Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter; Article 19(2) of the ICCPR and the rights of journalists under Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty.

They also sought a declaration that the government’s directive, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), for the deactivation of Twitter accounts in Nigeria violated their human rights under international law and that the threat by the Attorney-General of the Federation to criminally prosecute anybody found to be using Twitter in Nigeria, following the suspension of the platform also violated their human rights under international law.

They urged the court to issue orders mandating the government to immediately take all necessary measures to rescind the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria and to take all necessary measures to guarantee non-recurrence in order to prevent the same violation from occurring in the future.

They also request the court to compel the government to issue adequate reparations, including restitution, compensation, and measures of satisfaction to them to be specified and submitted to the court, as well as to issue an order of injunction restraining the government, its servants, and agents from imposing criminal sanctions on individuals, including the applicants, who use Twitter or any other social media service provider.

However, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja “to stop the federal government and the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Muhammed from using their patently unlawful directive to all Television and radio stations not to use Twitter, and to delete their accounts as a pretext to harass, intimidate, suspend or impose criminal punishment on journalists and broadcast stations simply for using social media platforms.”

This is in reaction to the order by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) asking Television and radio stations to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately” after the social media giant was banned in the country for deleting tweets of President Muhammadu Buhari.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/496/2021 filed last Friday, SERAP is seeking “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr Lai Muhammed and any other persons from censoring, regulating, licensing and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations, and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.”

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