President Muhammadu of Nigeria (left) and Twitter co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mr Jack Dorsey
In reaction to the decision of the federal government of Nigeria to ban the usage of Twitter in Nigeria because Twitter deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet and the threat by the government in Nigeria that defaulters would be prosecuted, the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja has restrained the Federal Government from arresting and prosecuting Twitter users pending the determination of a suit before it.
The Federal Government had announced the suspension of micro-blogging giant Twitter on June 5, which was followed by a directive by Nigeria’s Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami that those who violet the ban would be arrested and prosecuted.
The ECOWAS Court restrained the Federal Government from imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to “arrest or prosecute Twitter and/or any other social media service provider(s), media houses, radio and television broadcast stations, the Plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users. The ruling was on an interlocutory application filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians.
They argued before the court 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.” The court gave the order after hearing arguments from Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana SAN, and lawyer to the government Maimuna Shiru.
The court said: “Any interference with Twitter is viewed as inference 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.”
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, in a statement after the ruling quoted Falana as saying: “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.”
Meanwhile, the government has confirmed its readiness to discuss with Twitter by naming a high-powered team of ministers to lead the talks. The team include Minister of Information Lai Mohammed, Babatunde Fashola (Works and Housing), Abubakar Malami (Justice), Geoffery Onyeama (Foreign Affairs), Ali Pantami (Communication), and Festus Keyamo (state Labour and Employment).