Aisha Yesufu, one of the leading figures of the EndSars protest; Oby Ezekwesili, Nigeria’s former Minister of Education; the Registered Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP); and over 400 Nigerians have filed a lawsuit against the ban of Twitter by the Nigerian government through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
ECOWAS’ Community Court of Justice has fixed June 22 as the hearing date.
The court sent notice to the plaintiffs’ counsel, Femi Falana (SAN) and the respondent’s counsel Mrs Maimuna Lami Shiru. It reads that the hearing of an application for an injunction would be carried out virtually:
“Notice is hereby given that this application has been fixed for hearing of the application for Interim Measure on June 22, 2021, at 10:00 AM and will be heard on that day if the business of the court permits or otherwise on some adjourned day of which you may not receive further notice.”
The lawsuit is based on “the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalisation of Nigerians and other people using Twitter, and the escalating repression of human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom in the country.”
As contained in the suit filed ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21, the plaintiffs are seeking: “An order of interim injunction restraining the Federal 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.”
They contend 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.”
Looking into the suit in part:
“The suspension of Twitter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter and other social media platforms to assess government policies, expose corruption, and criticise acts of official impunity by the agents of the Federal Government.
“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.
“The arbitrary action by the Federal Government and its agents has negatively impacted millions of Nigerians who carry on their daily businesses and operational activities on Twitter. The suspension has also impeded the freedom of expression of millions of Nigerians, who criticize and influence government policies through the microblogging app.
“The suspension of Twitter is arbitrary, and there is no law in Nigeria today permitting the prosecution of people simply for peacefully exercising their human rights through Twitter and other social media platforms.”
According to the plaintiffs, the ban and the threat of prosecution of Nigerians who continue to use the platform, by the Nigerian government constitute a fundamental breach of the country’s international human rights obligations including 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.
By Elijah Christopher
Elijah Christopher is a journalist at A New Touch Of Africa, is also a creative writer, a poet, and an IT enthusiast. He contributed to the collaborative poem written in celebration of Edwin Morgan Centenary, the first Glasgow poet laureate and Scottish national poet from the University of Glasgow. He loves meeting people and learning about new places, cultures, events, and lifestyles.