A Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed October 4 to hear a suit by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) challenging the legality of the Federal Government’s suspension of the operations of micro blogging and social media website, Twitter.
The Incorporated Trustees of the NBA filed the suit numbered FHC/L/CS/613/202 on June 18, following the government’s June 4 threat to prosecute Nigerians who defy the directive by continuing to use Twitter.
President Muhammadu Buhari; the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) are first to fourth defendants, respectively.
The NBA, via its 7 member legal team led by Dr Charles Mekwunye, is seeking 11 reliefs.
They include, among others, a declaration that the ban or suspension of the microblogging site is unlawful and a declaration that any prosecution of users of the site will be unconstitutional.
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It is also seeking a declaration that the ban affects the business, employment and economic activities of lawyers and Nigerians generally and an order mandating all mobile network and internet service providers to unblock the use of the microblogging and social media site.
The Chairman of the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA/SPIDEL), Monday Ubani, has a similar suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
So does the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) at the Federal High Court in Abuja; and 176 other Nigerians and SERAP at the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
Last Friday, the Federal Government told a the Federal High Court in Lagos that it had not stopped Nigerians from using Twitter.
The government and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami stated this in a counter-affidavit deposed to in response to an originating motion filed by human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, challenging the suspension.
In the affidavit deposed to by Mr Ilop Lawrence on behalf of the Federal Government, Malami said the suspension of Twitter was not an abuse of human rights because Nigerians were still using social media platform.
It read in part, “The applicant (Effiong) and the class he seeks to represent can still operate those Twitter accounts from anywhere in the world and even from Nigeria. Nigerians are still tweeting, even at this moment as the ban on Twitter is not aimed at intimidating Nigerians or an infringement on the rights of Nigerians to express their opinion.
“The respondents (Federal Government and AGF) have never stopped the applicant (Effiong) and the class of persons he seeks to represent from voicing their opinions to access government information and offer criticism where necessary.”
Nigeria suspended Twitter after the social media platform pulled down a tweet by President Buhari on the ground that it violated its rules.
A few days after restricting citizens’ access to Twitter, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) also directed all broadcast outfits to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”, labelling the platform as “unpatriotic”.
The legality of the government’s move has been widely questioned and stakeholders in the civic space have moved to challenge the controversial decision, which has sparked national outrage and attracted international criticism for weeks.