Following a suit by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians, the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Court has declared unlawful the suspension of Twitter by the Nigeria government. 

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed had announced the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, following the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet last year. The federal government also threatened to arrest and prosecute anyone using Twitter in the country, while the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) asked all broadcast stations to suspend the patronage of Twitter.

In the judgment delivered yesterday, the Court held that the act of suspending the operation of Twitter was unlawful and inconsistent with the provisions of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both of which Nigeria is a state party.

SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, disclosed that the court also ordered the Buhari’s administration to take necessary steps to align its policies and other measures to give effect to the rights and freedoms, and to guarantee a non-repetition of the unlawful ban of Twitter.

According to the Court, suspending the operation of Twitter by the Buhari administration violates the rights of SERAP and 176 concerned Nigerians to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and the media as well as the right to fair hearing.

The Court also ordered the Buhari administration to bear the costs of the proceedings and directed the Deputy Chief Registrar to assess the costs accordingly.

In his reaction the judgement, Femi Falana, SERAP’s lawyer in the suit said, “We commend the ECOWAS Court for the landmark judgment in the case of SERAP v Federal Republic of Nigeria in which the judges unanimously upheld the human rights of community citizens to freedom of expression, and access to information. Even though the Court had granted an interim order of injunction last year which restrained the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN from prosecuting Nigerians who defied the Twitter ban.

He emphasized that SERAP deserves special commendation for pursuing the matter to a logical conclusion. Noting that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and the full enjoyment of this right is central to achieving individual freedom and to developing democracy.