Twitter: FG challenges ECOWAS court ruling, dismisses grounds for restraining order

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The legal battle between the Nigerian government and rights activists over the suspension of Twitter operation in Nigeria continues as the federal government filed an objection to the ruling.

The regional court, in a restraining order,  ruled on Tuesday, following a suit by SERAP and 176 others, that: Any interference with Twitter is viewed as interference 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.”

But in a preliminary objection, Nigeria stated a number f grounds, including jurisdiction, Twitter as a business entity, and various codes and acts in Nigeria.

The objection states:

The subject matter of the SERAP suit relates to the indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. This is not in any way connected to any Nigerian or SERAP. Individual user’s Twitter accounts are not suspended.

“The right to freedom of expression is completely different from freedom of reach. The suspension of Twitter does not fall under the provisions of arts 8 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“Twitter as an entity is not an organisation of any member state as it is an American microblogging networking service. The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is not a right recognised under any treaty enforceable by this Court.

“In the unlikely event that this Honourable Court agrees with SERAP that the suspension of Twitter is a fundamental right, the dissolution or liquidation of Twitter as a profit-making entity may as well open a floodgate and vest the users the rights of a non-existent right.

“Twitter is a profit-making entity that can be proscribed/dissolved in compliance with any national laws. The compulsory shutdown of an entity cannot be termed the breach of any fundamental rights by this Honourable Court.

“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is in compliance with the provisions of sections 420, 419 of the Penal Code [Northern Nigeria]; Federal Provisions Act, and section 58 of the Criminal Code Act. The operation of Twitter is in violation of Nigerian domestic legislation.

“Ground Two: This Court lacks the jurisdiction to determine the criminalisation of an act under Nigerian laws. The subject matter of the SERAP suit borders on the criminalisation of Twitter operations in Nigeria pursuant to the Penal Code and the Criminal Code.

“The use and operation of Twitter in Nigeria constitutes the offences of Importation of Prohibited publication under sections 420 and 421 or the offence of possession of seditious articles under section 419 of the Penal Code Federal Provisions Act.

“In any event, there is a right of action vested in the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, the said right vests directly on Twitter and not individual users of Twitter. This is more so that individual user’s Twitter accounts were not tempered but only the operation of Twitter.

“Nigerians and SERAP have no cause of action. The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is in compliance with the provisions of sections 420, 419 of the Penal Code and section 58 of the Criminal Code, and sections 78 and 79 of CAMA 2020.”

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