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Lawyers, Advocacy Group, Threaten Nigerian Govt With Legal Actions Over Twitter Ban

Nigerian Bar Association and SERAP say the Twitter ban lacks legal basis, describing it as a move to stifle free speech.

Nigerian lawyers under the umbrella of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), have threatened to sue the Nigerian government over the Twitter ban it ordered on Friday, June 4.

The government announced the suspension of Twitter in the country days after the site deleted a statement by President Muhammadu Buhari referencing the country’s civil war, and inciting violence on separatists attacking government institutions and security formations in the southeast.

In the now-deleted tweet, President Buhari had, on Tuesday June 1, 2021, said his government would deal with them in “the language they understand.”

Irked by Buhari’s reference to his role in the 1967 civil war that claimed  many lives, Nigerian Twitter users called it genocidal and reported it. Twitter removed the president’s tweet afterwards.

In response, the Nigerian government announced it had indefinitely suspended Twitter in the country, citing the persistent use of the platform for “activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”

But Olumide Akpata, the NBA President, said the association was greatly concerned about the implications of the development.

The implications, Akpata said, extend to “the right of Nigerians to freely express their constitutionally guaranteed opinions through that medium.”

He said the ban lacks legal basis, describing it as an attempt to deprive Nigerians’ right to freely express their constitutionally guaranteed opinions through that medium.

“Beyond the dent on our constitutional democracy, at a time when the Nigerian economy is unarguably struggling, the impact of arbitrary decisions such as this on investor confidence is better imagined,” the NBA president said in a statement.

He said if the decision was not immediately reversed, the association would “have no choice but to challenge the same in the interest of the public and our democracy.”

In the same vein,  the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) called on the government to immediately rescind the suspension within 48 hours or face legal action.

A statement by Kolawole Oluwadare, its deputy director, said the suspension “has the character of collective punishment and is contrary to Nigeria’s international obligations.”

Suspending Twitter in Nigeria, Oluwadare said, would deny Nigerians access to information, disrupt the free exchange of ideas, and the ability of individuals to connect and associate peacefully on matters of shared concern. 

“It would also seriously undermine the ability of Nigerians to promote transparency and accountability in the country, and to participate in their own government,” he said.

“We call on the Nigerian authorities to guarantee the constitutionally and internationally recognized human rights of Nigerians including online. Deletion of President Buhari’s tweets should never be used as a pretext to suppress the civic space and undermine Nigerians’ fundamental human rights.”

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Aishat Babatunde

Aishat Babatunde heads the digital reporting desk. Before joining HumAngle, she worked at Premium Times and Nigerian Tribune. She is a graduate of English from the University of Ibadan.

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