An advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and some activists have filed a lawsuit against the Nigerian government over the suspension of Twitter operations.
The Nigerian government, on Friday, June 4, 2021, banned Twitter operations, days after the site deleted a divisive tweet by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
President Buhari had threatened to use force against secessionists suspected to be fomenting attacks on government institutions and security formations in the Southeast.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War,” President Buhari had said in the now-deleted tweet. Those “who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
The tweet was deleted by Twitter which said it violated its “abusive behaviour” policy, after many Nigerian users reported it as ‘genocidal statement’ against the Igbo, the dominant ethnic group in the southeast.
Defending the suspension, Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, accused Twitter of double standards and for activities “that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
Despite widespread outrage, Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice ordered that anyone who floated the directive be immediately prosecuted.
SERAP, activists’ suit
On Tuesday, June 8,2021, SERAP and 176 activists took the Muhammadu Buhari government to the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) court in Abuja, Nigeria’s Capital, over “the unlawful suspension.”
In the suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21 filed before the ECOWAS Community Court, the group sought an order of interim injunction restraining the Nigerian 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.
Femi Falana, the group’s counsel, contended 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 suspension of Twitter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter and other social media platforms to assess government policies,” he said.
“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.”
He argued the ban had negatively impacted millions of Nigerians who carry on their daily businesses on Twitter, and had also impeded freedom of expression.
He contended that the suspension of Twitter was arbitrary with no law in Nigeria backing “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.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the interim application and the substantive suit.
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