Following a suit by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and 176 concerned Nigerians, the verdict of the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS) Court on Twitter ban is that it is unlawful for the federal government of Nigeria to have suspended it in the first place.
The court has also ordered the government of President Muhammadu Buhari ‘never to repeat it again’.
The Twitter ban suspension announcement in Nigeria was made by the Minister of Information and culture, Lai Muhammed, following the deletion of Buhari’s tweets. Back then, the federal government also threatened to arrest and prosecute anyone using Twitter in the country, just as the National Broadcasting Commission instructed all broadcast stations to suspend the patronage of Twitter.
In the judgments delivered Thursday, however, the ECOWAS Court declared that it possessed the jurisdiction to hear the case. Therefore, based on that, the case was admissible.
Also deliberating the matter of ECOWAS courts on Twitter ban, the court submitted that the act of suspending the operation of Twitter is unlawful and also inconsistent with the provisions of both Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
According to the court’s ruling: ‘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.’
Buhari’s administration was also instructed to bear the costs of the proceedings while directing the Deputy Chief Registrar to assess the costs accordingly.
In his reaction to the judgment, Femi Falana, SAN, who represents SERAP in the suit, stipulated: ‘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.’