President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR

Twitter Ban: NGOs, journalists sue Nigerian Government at ECOWAS Court

*The applicants maintain there is no justification for suspension of Twitter operations under Nigeria’s domestic laws, as the government did so in an arbitrary manner in circumstances with no public or judicial oversight, transparency or accountability

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Considering the indefinite suspension of Twitter in the country as a violation of their human rights under international law, five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and four journalists have filed a suit against the Federal Government of Nigeria at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, in Abuja, FCT.

ConsumerConnect gathered that in the suit they filed Monday, June 21, the plaintiffs requested the court to declare the indefinite suspension of Twitter operations in the country as a violation of their fundamental human rights under international law.

The applicants have noted that Nigeria’s ongoing suspension of Twitter, which came into effect Friday, June 4, has violated their right to freedom of expression and interfered with the ability of the journalists to do their work as members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm.

The NGO applicants are 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), while the journalists are David Hundeyin, Samuel Ogundipe, Blessing Oladunjoye and Nwakamri Apollo.

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 plaintiffs also want the court to order the Federal Government to immediately overturn the Twitter suspension order and compensate them all for apparent violation of their rights.

The applicants further stated that the general situation in the country as regards human rights has created an environment where freedom of expression is stifled.

It has contributed to creating a chilling effect on press and media freedom, said the plaintiffs.

They maintained that Nigeria 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.

According to them, these three conditions must all be met before any restriction on the right to freedom of expression can be considered legitimate.

The applicants noted that the suspension of Twitter was not provided by law, that there was no justification for it under Nigeria’s domestic laws, and that it was done by the government in an arbitrary manner in circumstances where there was no public or judicial oversight, transparency or accountability.

The plaintiffs, therefore, prayed 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.

Likewise, they sought a declaration, that the government’s directive, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), for the deactivation of Twitter accounts in in the country violated their human rights under international law.

And that the threat by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) 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.

The applicants further 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.

According to them, the court should compel the Nigerian 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.

Report, however, indicates that no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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