ECOWAS court adjourns case till July 6
The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja has restrained the Federal Government from imposing sanctions, arresting, or prosecuting Nigerians who are still making use of the social media platform Twitter.
Recall that the federal government banned twitter in Nigeria for allegedly activities that are said to be capble of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Nigerians turned to Virtual Private Network to bypass the suspension of Twitter this led to the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami threatening to arrest and prosecute those still using the platform.
However, Civil Society Organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), and 176 concerned Nigerians instituted a suit before the ECOWAS court against the federal government.
SERAP argued that the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalisation of Nigerians and other people using Twitter had 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.
Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, represented the plaintiffs while a legal practitioner, Maimuna Shiru, represented the government.
SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said in a statement that in a landmark ruling on Tuesday, the ECOWAS court restrained the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari and its agents from “unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter or any other social media service provider, media houses, radio, television broadcast stations, the plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
The ECOWAS court further stated, “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.”
Reacting to the ruling, Falana 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.
The senior advocate argued that contrary to a later assurance credited to Malami that violators of the Twitter suspension 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,” Falana said.
The substantive suit has been adjourned till July 6, 2021 for hearing of the substantive suit.