ECOWAS Court: Twitter ban unlawful, warns against repeat
The ECOWAS Court, on Thursday, “found unlawful the suspension of Twitter by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, and ordered the administration never to repeat it,” in response to a lawsuit filed by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 worried Nigerians.
Kolawole Oluwadare, the SERAP deputy director, announced this development on Thursday.
The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria was declared by the Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet was removed.
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) urged all broadcast stations to stop using Twitter while the government also threatened to detain and prosecute anyone found using Twitter in the nation.
However, the ECOWAS court ruled that the case was admissible and that it had the authority to hear it in the verdict it issued today.
Additionally, the court ruled that Twitter’s operation being suspended violates both Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, both of which Nigeria is a state party.
According to the Court, “The Buhari administration in suspending the operations of Twitter violates the rights of SERAP and 176 concerned Nigerians to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and the media, as well as the right to fair hearing.”
The Court also ordered the Buhari administration to take necessary steps to align its policies and other measures to give effect to the rights and freedoms and to guarantee a non-repetition of the unlawful ban of Twitter.
The Court also ordered the Buhari administration to bear the costs of the proceedings and directed the Deputy Chief Registrar to assess the costs accordingly.
Reacting to the judgment, Femi Falana, SERAP’s lawyer in the suit said, “We commend the ECOWAS Court for the landmark judgment in the case of SERAP v Federal Republic of Nigeria in which the Judges unanimously upheld the human rights of community citizens to freedom of expression, and access to information. Even though the Court had granted an interim order of injunction last year which restrained the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN from prosecuting Nigerians who defied the Twitter ban, SERAP deserves special commendation for pursuing the matter to a logical conclusion.”
“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.”
“With the latest decision of the Court to declare the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria illegal, it is hoped that the Heads of State and Governments of the member states of the Economic Community of West African States will henceforth respect and uphold the human right of the community to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.”
It would be recalled that SERAP 176 concerned Nigerians had in suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21 filed before the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja, sought: “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.”