The Community Court of Justice, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has fixed June 22 for hearing a suit challenging the Federal Government’s suspension of the operations of the microblogging platform, Twitter, in Nigeria.
The Registered Trustees of The Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project (SERAP) and 420 Nigerians, including former Minister of Education Oby Ezekwesili and the co-founder of the #BringBackOurGirls movement Aisha Yesufu, filed the suit.
The court, in a notice to the plaintiffs’ counsel, Femi Falana (SAN) and respondent’s counsel Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru, stated that the hearing of an application for an injunction would be virtual.
“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 court stated.
SERAP and the 420 Concerned Nigerians are suing over “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”.
In the suit numbered ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21, they 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.”
The plaintiffs 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.”
The suit reads 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.
“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.
According to the plaintiffs, the suspension and threat of prosecution by the Federal 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.