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The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has sued the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) over the suspension of the social media platform, Twitter, in Nigeria.
This came after the Federal Government on Thursday, 22nd July, 2021 told a Federal High Court in Lagos, that it had not stopped Nigerians from using the social media platform, Twitter. It claims that Nigerians are still using Twitter every day.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) thereafter, proceeded to sue the Federal Government, NCC and the Minister if Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed. The NBA stated that the actions and directives of the respondents gravely infringe on the fundamental human rights of the applicant (NBA).
The association argued further, that no law in Nigeria, criminalises the use of Twitter in Nigeria. It also stated that the Federal Government and other respondents have suspended, without due process and unconstitutionally, the operations of the social media platform, Twitter, in Nigeria.
Earlier on, it was reported that the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami responded to an originating motion filed by Human Rights Lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, by saying this in a counter-affidavit they deposed to.
On the 4th of June, 2021, the Federal Government had suspended the use of Twitter in Nigeria, on the social media platform (Twitter), two days after Twitter deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet on the platform. Despite this suspension, Nigerians have bypassed the suspension by using Virtual Private networks (VPNs). It can be recalled that the Federal Government, through Malami, threatened to prosecute any Nigerian still found using Twitter on their phones. During this time, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) stopped all radio and television stations from using any content on Twitter.
The Human Rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, proceeded to sue the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and the Federal Government of Nigeria for illegally suspending Twitter in Nigeria, claiming it was an infringement on the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Nigeria.
Responding to this, the Federal Government reiterated that the suspension of Twitter was not an infringement on human rights because Nigerians were still on Twitter, despite its suspension. The Federal Government further claimed ignorance of the deleting of President Buhari’s tweet on Biafra, which was offensive to Nigerians, by Twitter. It stated that Twitter supported and promoted the #EndSARS protest in October 2020 and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The Nigerian government had told the court that Twitter would not have been suspended if it had adhered to the laws of Nigeria. It went further to state that the suspension would be lifted as soon as Twitter registers with the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
The NBA has urged the Federal High Court to rule the suspension of Twitter as “a violent breach of the applicant’s right to freedom of expression and the press, guaranteed under sections 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended in 2011), Articles 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) act, 1983 and Articles 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights”.
The NBA, in a statement by its publicity secretary, Raps Nduka, had filed a suit on June 18, two weeks after the Federal Government placed a ban on Twitter. The suit was filed against President Muhammadu Buhari, the NCC, Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed in the suit marked FHC/L/CS/613/2021.
The association, justifying its filing of the suit, said that according to Paragraph 3 (e) of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, “any civil society, human rights group, or association can file an action to enforce the fundamental rights of any person or group of persons”.
The association also mentioned that many of its members who have Twitter accounts and follow the Nigerian Bar Association on its Twitter handle, are living in the fear that they and the citizens of Nigeria, could be arrested and persecuted for using Twitter, in line with the directive of the Federal Government which says that anyone found using the social media platform would be persecuted.
It described the threat of the government to arrest and prosecute Nigerians using the social madia platform, as unconstitutional and unlawful.
The NBA’s suit is just one of the many suits that have been filed against the government of Nigeria, over the suspension of Twitter since 4th of June.
The ECOWAS Court of Justice have issued an interim order on an application filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and other Nigerians, restraining the Federal Government of Nigeria from harassing, arresting and prosecuting any citizen of Nigeria for using Twitter.
“We must all suffer before things become right in Nigeria”- Former CBN governor Sanusi Lamido