[avatar user=”Anthony Ogbonna” /]
… as ECOWAS court restrains prosecution of users
Micro-blogging and social networking giant, Twitter, may regain operations in Nigeria soon after it was banned in Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal government of Nigeria.
The ban by the Nigerian government is likely to be lifted soon as Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari has ordered a negotiation team led by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to meet with Twitter and dialogue possible ways of resolving it.
Meanwhile, the ECOWAS Court of Justice sitting in Abuja has restrained the Nigerian government from imposing sanctions or prosecuting Nigerians using Twitter and other social media platforms.
The Nigeria government had, on the 4th of June 2021, banned indefinitely, the operations of Twitter, a social networking site widely used by Nigerians, in the country.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed had made the announcement of the ban in a statement issued in Abuja.
He had cited, as reasons for the prohibition, the continuous use of the platform by unpatriotic persons as well as accused Twitter of aiding the use of the platform for activities he said were undermining the corporate existence of Nigeria.
However, a little over two weeks since Nigeria suspended the operations of Twitter, the government has set up a committee to dialogue possible ways to resolve the difference between Nigeria and Twitter.
The committee which has five serving ministers in all is led by the Minister of Information and Culture. Other members of the committee include the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami and Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama.
A statement by the information minister, through the Senior Assistance to the president (Media), office of the minister of information and culture, Segun Adeyemi, also noted that other relevant government agencies are among the negotiation team. The statement partly reads thus:
“President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the composition of the Federal Government’s Team to engage with Twitter over the recent suspension of the operations of the microblogging and social networking service in Nigeria.
The approval was announced in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who will chair the team.
“The Federal Government’s team also comprises the Attorney General of the Federation and Honourable Minister of Justice, Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Honourable Minister of Works and Housing, Honourable Minister of State for Labour and Employment as well as other relevant government agencies.
“Following the indefinite suspension of its operations in Nigeria, for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence, Twitter wrote to President Buhari seeking to engage with the Federal Government over the suspension, with a view to charting a path forward.”
Meanwhile, recall that the Buhari government, after suspending the operations of Twitter in the country, had subsequently warned media houses in Nigeria, comprising Radio and television stations and other media outfits to de-activate and delete their accounts on the networking platform.
It equally ordered Nigerians to stop using the social networking site just as it directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to begin the process of licensing all over-the-top (OTT) media services and social media operations in the country.
Similarly, while a directive by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, (AGF), Abubakar Malami warned that anybody found using Twitter would be arrested and prosecuted, the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) had, by the directive from the government, blocked Nigerians from accessing Twitter in Nigeria.
With Nigeria having about 40 million Twitter users and an estimated 10 million daily active users, NetBlocks, a regulator organisation that tracks cyber-security and internet administration, revealed that Nigeria loses about N2.18 billion each day the ban on the social networking technology remained sacrosanct.
However, the ban saw an upsurge of Nigerians who defied the restrictions and turned to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to keep accessing Twitter in the country. Thousands of Nigerians downloaded VPNs to access Twitter as it hides their identities by creating a private network from a public internet connection. This technology redirects their networks through a specially configured remote server run by a VPN host.
ECOWAS COURT restrains arrest, prosecution of Nigerian Twitter users:
Nevertheless, the ban and prosecution threat were met with stiff condemnations from Nigerians and the global community. Also, some human rights groups and individuals who condemned the ban lodged lawsuits challenging the federal government’s threat to prosecute users of the micro-blogging site. They argued that the ban is an infringement on the freedom of expression enjoyed by Nigerians who use the Twitter technology.
The ECOWAS Court, in a landmark ruling on Tuesday, “restrained the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and its agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions or 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, the Plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
Although the Nigerian government objected the claims by the plaintiff, the ECOWAS court, however, ruled saying thus: “The court has listened very well to the objection by Nigeria.
“The court has this to say. 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.
“The ruling followed a suit brought to the court against Nigerian government by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 other concerned Nigerians.
“The suit had argued that “the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalization 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 substantive suit has been adjourned to 6th July 2021 for hearing of the substantive suit.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government has justified its ban on Twitter by backing it with the constitution, National Security Act, the Cybercrime law and Companies and Allied Matters Act, (CAMA).
Lai Mohammed gave the justification while defending the ban at the investigative hearing organised by the House of Representatives joint committees on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values in conjunction with the National Security, Justice and Commerce.
The information minister also cited Twitter’s role during the #EndSars protest in Nigeria as his defense. He said, “during the EndSARS protest, the same Twitter played an unsavoury role, by making its platform to retweet, and not just retweet the messages of the EndSARS protesters, but raising funds for the EndSARS protesters, before it was hijacked by hoodlums.”
Although Nigeria wants a sanitised usage of social media platforms by Nigerians, the recent ban on Twitter has been adjudged as robbing a dent on the country’s technological growth and quest for full digitisation.