The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja to make the Federal Government (FG) and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, withdraw their unlawful directive to all TV and radio stations not to use Twitter.
This was disclosed in a statement on Sunday by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, made available to Ripples Nigeria.
According to the statement, the lawsuit also seeks to stop the FG and Mohammed from using their deleted accounts on Twitter as a pretext to harass, intimidate, suspend or impose criminal punishment on journalists and broadcast stations simply for using the social media platform.
This comes after the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) directed television and radio stations to immediately suspend their patronage of Twitter after the social media giant was suspended in the country for deleting a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/496/2021 filed last Friday, SERAP asked for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the FG, NBC, Muhammed, and any other persons from censoring, regulating, licensing, and controlling social media operations and contents by broadcast stations, and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.
Also, SERAP is seeking an order to set aside the directive by NBC and Muhammed asking broadcast stations to stop using Twitter, saying it is unconstitutional, unlawful, inconsistent, and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and the country’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
SERAP argued: “The government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr. Lai Muhammed have consistently made policies and given directives to crack down 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 court has an important role to play in the protection and preservation of the rule of law to ensure that persons and institutions operate within the defined ambit of constitutional and statutory limitations.
“Where agencies of government are allowed to operate at large and at their whims and caprices in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the result will be anarchy, licentiousness, authoritarianism, and brigandage leading to the loss of the much cherished and constitutionally guaranteed freedom and liberty.”
SERAP maintained 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 Muhammed have contravened the right to access to justice and fair hearing guaranteed under sections 6 & [b] and 36 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, and articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi, and Opeyemi Owolabi, read: “The directive by the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed to broadcasters to delete their Twitter accounts is unlawful, as it amounts to a fundamental breach of the principle of legality, the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom, and incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations.
“SERAP and concerned Nigerians are entitled to the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom subject only to lawful restrictions. SERAP and concerned Nigerians frequently rely on the Twitter handles of many broadcast stations as sources of information for our activities in the promotion of transparency and accountability in the country.
“Nigeria is a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which impose legal obligations on the government of President Buhari to ensure that the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom are respected, promoted, protected, fulfilled, and not unlawfully restricted.
“The NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed have not shown any law breached by journalists, broadcast stations, and media houses in Nigeria, and the government of President Buhari cannot use any disagreement with Twitter as a ploy to violate Nigerians’ rights and undermine their businesses and professional duties.”
“The drafters of the Nigerian Constitution well knew the danger inherent in special executive and legislative acts which take away the life, liberty, or property of particular named persons. They intended to safeguard the people of this country from punishment without trial by duly constituted courts. These principles are so fundamental and must be respected.”
“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.”
By Victor Uzoho
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