FG reacts: “We didn’t ban Twitter, we only suspended it”.
Nigeria was on Tuesday restrained by an ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja from prosecuting Twitter users following a case preferred against the country by a group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians had challenged the action of the government.
In its ruling on Tuesday, the court restrained the government and its agents from “unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter and/or any other social media service provider(s), media houses, radio and television broadcast stations, the Plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
“The unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalization of Nigerians and other people using Twitter have escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of Nigerians and other people to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.”
The court gave the order after hearing arguments from Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana SAN, and lawyer to the government, Maimuna Shiru.
The court said: “The court has listened very well to the objection by Nigeria. The court has this to say. Any interference with Twitter is viewed as inference with human rights, and that will violate human rights. Therefore, this court has jurisdiction to hear the case. The court also hereby orders that the application be heard expeditiously. The Nigerian government must take immediate steps to implement the order.”
You may want to recall that many Nigerians have refused to heed to the order by the Muhammadu Buhari led government to stop the use of twitter, circumventing it through the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
But the office of Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation, threatened to prosecute those violating the ban.
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) also ordered all radio and television stations to deactivate their twitter accounts.
A few hours to the hearing of the suit by SERAP and 176 Nigerians, the Buhari administration filed and served us a preliminary objection, claiming that “The subject matter of this suit is not for the enforcement of any human right recognized by this Court.” The preliminary objection was dismissed by the ECOWAS Court.
The Federal Government’s objection, read in part:
“Particulars: The subject matter of the SERAP suit relates to the indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. This is not in any way connected to any Nigerian or SERAP. Individual user’s Twitter accounts are not suspended.”
“The right to freedom of expression is completely different from freedom of reach. The suspension of Twitter does not fall under the provisions of article 8 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
“Twitter as an entity is not an organization of any member state as it is an American microblogging networking service. The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is not a right recognized under any treaty enforceable by this Court.”
“In the unlikely event that this Honorable Court agrees with SERAP that the suspension of Twitter is a fundamental right, the dissolution or liquidation of Twitter as a profit-making entity may as well open a floodgate and vest the users the rights of a non-existent right.”
“Twitter is a profit-making entity which can be proscribed/dissolved in compliance with any national laws. The compulsory shut down of an entity cannot be termed the breach of any fundamental rights by this Honorable Court.”
“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is in compliance with the provisions of sections 420, 419 of the Penal Code [Northern Nigeria]; Federal Provisions Act, and section 58 of the Criminal Code Act. The operation of Twitter is in violation of Nigerian domestic legislation.”
“Ground Two: This Court lacks the jurisdiction to determine the criminalization of an act under Nigerian laws. The subject matter of the SERAP suit borders on the criminalization of Twitter operation in Nigeria pursuant to the Penal Code and the Criminal Code.”
“The use and operation of Twitter in Nigeria constitutes the offences of Importation of Prohibited publication under sections 420 and 421 or the offence of possession of seditious articles under section 419 of the Penal Code Federal Provisions Act.”
“In any event there is a right of action vested in the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, the said right vests directly on Twitter and not individual users of Twitter. This is more so that individual user’s Twitter accounts were not tempered but only the operation of Twitter.”
“Nigerians and SERAP have no cause of action. The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is in compliance with the provisions of sections 420, 419 of the Penal Code and section 58 of the Criminal Code, and sections 78 and 79 of CAMA 2020.”