ECOWAS court declares Nigeria Twitter ban unlawful, warns against repeat

Following a suit by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians, the ECOWAS Court has “declared unlawful the suspension of Twitter by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, and ordered the administration never to repeat it again.”

The Federal Government in July 2021 banned Twitter after a tweet by Buhari was deleted. The tweet referenced the civil war experience where millions of people from the southeast were killed.

The government also threatened to arrest and prosecute anyone using Twitter in the country, while the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) asked all broadcast stations to suspend their patronage of Twitter.

But in the judgment delivered today, the ECOWAS court declared that it has the jurisdiction to hear the case and that the case was therefore admissible.

The Court also held that the act of suspending the operation of Twitter is unlawful and inconsistent with the provisions of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political 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 a fair hearing.”

The court 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 community to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.”

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