There are at least 2 large-scale pending legal suits that have been filed against the federal government of Nigeria over its controversial 4 June decision to indefinitely suspend access to Twitter in the country.
Since the ban, the legality of the government’s decision has been widely questioned, and stakeholders in the civic space have seemingly begun moving to challenge the decision which has sparked national outrage and attracted international media criticism in the weeks since the ban.
SERAP Seeks Legal Action
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a civil society organisation in Nigeria, filed a suit on Friday against the Federal Government and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The suit is challenging the Minister’s directive towards the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC)’s encapsulation of online media in the country.
According to SERAP, the directive is “patently unlawful” and a “pretext to harass, intimidate, suspend or impose criminal punishment on journalists and broadcast stations simply for using social media platforms.”
SERAP says that it is seeking “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr Lai Muhammed and any other persons from censoring, regulating, licensing and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations, and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.”
The NGO is also demanding an order to belay the directive by NBC and Muhammed asking broadcast stations to stop using Twitter. Claiming that it is “unconstitutional, unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and the country’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Further arguments by SERAP include claims that Buhari’s administration has consistently made policies and given directives to crack down on media freedom and the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and access to information.
The NGO claims that the administration has the power to impose crippling fines and other sanctions on broadcasting stations without any legal basis whatsoever.
“By using the National Broadcasting Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to stop broadcast stations from using Twitter without recourse to the court, the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed have contravened the right to access to justice and fair hearing guaranteed under sections 6 & [b] and 36 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, and articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” the suit reads.
Other Legal Suits
TechCabal reports that, in addition to the lawsuit in Abuja, the Nigerian government has also been sued by SERAP and 176 Nigerians over the Twitter ban in the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
Another suit has been filed in the Federal High Court in Lagos by Monday Ubani, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA/SPIDEL).
Ubani’s suit seeks to overturn the ban on Twitter because it is unlawful and violates the fundamental right of freedom of expression, freedom to hold opinions, receive and impact ideas and information without interference as guaranteed by the 1999 constitution.