Latest on Nigerian Govt. Versus Twitter
NIGERIAN GOVT. SUED BY SERAP AND 176 OTHER CONCERNED PARTIES.
Update on the most recent episodes of embarrassment faced by Nigeria, as a country and administration is that the Nigerian govt has been served with a notice to appear before the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
SERAP (Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja “to stop the Federal Government and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Muhammed from using their patently unlawful directive to all TV and radio stations not to use Twitter, and to delete their accounts as a pretext to harass, intimidate, suspend or impose criminal punishment on journalists and broadcast stations simply for using social media platforms.”
It is an embarrassing situation because, as a leading member state of the sub-regional body, Nigeria should not be one seen to pick such a petty quarrel with a foreign non-state entity. Secondly, Nigeria, also known as the “Giant of Africa” should not be dragged to a supra-national Court as a defaulter and violator of basic fundamental human rights recognised globally and even enshrined in her own Constitution.
This situation can be traced from an earlier tweet made by President Muhammadu Buhari, threatening to deal with anti-government agitators in the South Eastern part of Nigeria “in the language they understand”. Twitter deleted this post as it violated Twitter’s abusive behaviour policy.
Just two days after, the Buhari-led administration responded by indefinitely suspending the operations of the micro- blogging platform that millions of Nigerians, including highly placed government officials employ for business and real-time exchange of information. The government even considered prosecuting users of the platform if they did not act in accordance with the directives given.
Citizens of the Nigeria have expressed dismay and contempt for the latest actions of the Nigerian government. They have opined that the government is mixing personal interests of its high officials with its business of governance as a manager of national affairs. They have chosen the personal concerns of their officials over the general public interest.
The minister of Information, Lai Muhammed accused Twitter of supporting anti-government elements against the national interest. He has also accused Twitter of “helping to raise funds for the EndSARS protest” and of maintaining no corporate presence in the country whereby it may pay tax on the ‘billions’ it earns. It can be inferred from these allegations that this move against Twitter is rooted in more than just the deletion of Buhari’s offensive tweet. Another angle is the vexation of the Nigerian Authorities based on Twitter’s choice of Ghana as its regional headquarters even though it has far more users of its service in Nigeria.
SERAP is arguing that “The government of President Buhari, the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed have consistently made policies and given directives to crackdown on media freedom, and the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and access to information, and to impose crippling fines and other sanctions on broadcast stations without any legal basis whatsoever.”
“The directive to broadcast stations has seriously undermined the ability of Nigerians and other people in the country to freely express themselves in a democracy, and undermined the ability of journalists, media houses, broadcast stations, and other people to freely carry out their professional duties.”
SERAP believes that 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 Mohammed have contravened the right to access to justice and fair hearing guaranteed under sections 6(1) and 36(1) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, and Articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.