Community Court of Justice of the ECOWAS in a sitting in Abuja has ruled against the government from unlawfully imposing sanctions against Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of the suit filed before the court.
The court also ordered the Federal Government from “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 and the plaintiffs.”
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said that the use of twitter remains illegal in Nigeria despite the ECOWAS ruling.
The ruling followed the suit filed against the government by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians arguing that “the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalisation 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.”
The court gave the order after hearing arguments from legal counsel to SERAP, Femi Falana (SAN), and lawyer to the government, Maimuna Shiru.
The legal action and the ruling followed the suspension of Twitter by Lai Mohammed after the social media giant was banned in the country for deleting President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet.
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) also ordered TV and radio stations to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”, and told them to delete ‘unpatriotic’ Twitter. The substantive suit has been adjourned to July 6, 2021 for hearing of the substantive suit.
‘FG Insists on Regulation’
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, disclosed this yesterday when he appeared before a House of Representatives investigative hearing.
He said Twitter was used to disseminate information “that endangers the life and security” of Nigerians and cause disunity in the country.
Following the suspension, the green chamber had mandated its committees on communication, justice, information and culture, and national security and intelligence to investigate the circumstances behind the decision.
Speaking at the investigative hearing, Mohammed said the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020 does not permit foreign companies to do business in Nigeria if not registered. He said Twitter cannot be given the legitimate rights to operate until it is incorporated in Nigeria.
“As it regards operation of foreign companies in Nigeria, the law provides that a foreign company, which fails to take necessary steps to obtain incorporation as a separate entity in Nigeria for that purpose, but until so incorporated, the foreign company shall not carry on business in Nigeria or exercise any powers of a registered company,” he said.
“Hence, flowing from this background a foreign company as Twitter cannot be clothed with the legitimate rights to operate as a company registered in Nigeria, as they are not licensed, accordingly.
“Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is also observed that the operations of Twitter in the Nigerian social space is not legally permissible when it is used in airing of information that endangers the life and security of the majority of citizens of Nigeria.”
Mohammed said Twitter’s suspension is backed by international laws including articles 24, 25 and 26 of the African Union on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (CCPR).
He said the government would not hesitate to suspend other social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google hangout, and others if they are found to be promoting posts or statements capable of destabilising the country.
There was a mild drama when the Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy, Ariyo Dare Atoye, who was at the venue of the hearing raised his hand to contribute but was ruled out of order and shut down by the Chairman of the Committee, Olusegun Odebunmi.
Odebunmi insisted that only the minister would be allowed to make a presentation. Ariyo said he was a Nigerian and a user of Twitter, noting that it was wrong for the committee chairman to rule him out of order.
The activist added that the National Assembly is meant for all Nigerians and that he was at the hearing to observe the investigative hearing and ask questions as a Nigerian.
He said the minister was wrong in his presentation, adding that he defended the need for Nigeria to have independent media when he was in the opposition. He wondered how the same person changed overnight to become an advocate of regulated social media.
Meanwhile, some of the committee members expressed concern at the decision and action of the executive to suspend Twitter, stating that the country was sliding into totalitarianism.Follow us on social media