The Nigerian Government has been asked to restrain itself from imposing any sanction on Twitter and other social media platforms.
It has also been urged to shelve the idea of prosecuting all those who have acted in defiance of a temporary ban placed on the use of Twitter.
An ECOWAS Court sitting in Abuja which issued the order Tuesday urged the Nigerian Government to stay further action, pending the determination of the matter before it.
While delivering its ruling, the court held it has “restrained the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and its agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter and/or any other social media service provider(s), media houses, radio and television broadcast stations, the Plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians who approached the court had argued that “the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalization of Nigerians and other people using Twitter have escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of Nigerians and other people to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.”
After listening to Femi Falana San who represented SERAP and Maimuna who stood in for the government Maimuna Shiru, the court acknowledged that it has heard the objection filed by Nigeria.
“The court has listened very well to the objection by Nigeria. The court has this to say. Any interference with Twitter is viewed as interference with human rights, and that will violate human rights. Therefore, this court has jurisdiction to hear the case. The court also hereby orders that the application be heard expeditiously. The Nigerian government must take immediate steps to implement the order.”
In his response to the ruling, Femi Falana, SAN said: “The intervention of the ECOWAS Court is a timely relief for millions of Nigerians using Twitter who have been threatened with prosecution under the provision of the Penal Code relating to sedition.”
“Contrary to the assurance credited to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN that violators… would not be prosecuted, the Federal Government filed processes in the ECOWAS Court threatening to prosecute Nigerians using Twitter for violating the suspension under the provisions of the Penal Code relating to sedition.”
“It is extremely embarrassing that the Federal Government could threaten to jail Nigerians for sedition, which was annulled by the Court of Appeal in 1983, in the case of Arthur Nwankwo vs The State.”
The case has been adjourned to the 6th of July 2021 for hearing of the substantive suit.
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