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Commonwealth wades into FG’s Twitter ban, engages Buhari’s aide, others

By Monsurudeen Olowoopejo

In a bid to ensure that the Federal Government lift the restrictions imposed on use of Twitter across Nigeria, the  Commonwealth of Nation has waded into the issue and has begun to engage President Muhammadu Buhari’s aide and other stakeholder to bring the entire issue to a close.

Commonwealth said that efforts would be intensified to ensure that the Federal Government adhered to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants which it had agreed to uphold across Nigeria.

The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, confirmed the international organisation’s efforts to ensure that all parties in support and against the restrictions shift ground as well as resolved the issues.

Scotland’s statement followed an Urgent Appeal by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urging the international organisation to apply its Charter to hold the Nigerian government to account over unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria as well as resulting repression of freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

In the urgent appeal, SERAP had alleged that the Federal Government repeatedly demonstrated that it was not committed to protecting human rights.

The Non-Gpvernmental Organisation (NGO), SERAP, appealed that the Commonwealth should take a clear stand and ensure accountability of institutions, freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in Nigeria.

Responding, Scotland, in a letter sent to SERAP which was disclosed on Sunday, said: “I write to acknowledge with thanks, receipt of your letter dated 5 June 2021 highlighting concerns about the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.”

The letter by the Commonwealth dated 22 July 2021, and signed on behalf of Ms Scotland by Roger Koranteng, Officer in Charge, Governance and Peace Directorate, read in part: “The Commonwealth Secretary-General has been following the developments in Nigeria very closely and she is engaging the relevant stakeholders.

“Please be assured that the Secretariat will remain engaged with the authorities in Nigeria and encourage a speedy resolution of this matter.

“All Commonwealth member countries [including Nigeria] have committed themselves to uphold freedom of expression as one of the core values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter, which underscores a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments,” it added.

On behalf of SERAP, a director for the organisation, Kolawole Oluwadare said: “We are very delighted that our letter and the concerns that it raises have caught the attention of the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Given her public record for justice and human rights, we have absolutely no doubt that she will prevail on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to lift the unlawful suspension of Twitter, respect human rights, and obey the rule of law.”

“But it should never have reached this level, as the government has absolutely no justification to suspend Twitter in Nigeria. The Buhari administration ought to have complied with the Commonwealth Charter and other similar human rights standards as a matter of routine.”

SERAP’s Urgent Appeal dated 5 June, 2021, read in part: “Ms Scotland should urgently consider recommending the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth to the Heads of Government, the Commonwealth Chair-in-office, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as Head of the Commonwealth to push the government to take concrete measures to respect and promote the Commonwealth’s values of human rights, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.”

“Nigerians can only freely participate in the democratic processes and shape the society in which they live if these fundamental human rights are fully and effectively respected, protected and promoted.”

“The suspension has the character of collective punishment and is antithetical to the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international obligations. Nigerian authorities would seem to be suppressing people’s access to Twitter to exploit the shutdown to cover up allegations of corruption, abuses, and restrict freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.”

“The Nigerian government has also called for the prosecution of those who violate its order suspending Twitter operations in Nigeria. This order for prosecution of Twitter users violates the legal rule that there should be no punishment without law.”

“Respect for Commonwealth values is essential for citizens to trust Commonwealth institutions. The Commonwealth ought to take a strong stand for protection of human rights, transparency and the rule of law in Nigeria, principles which are fundamental to the Commonwealth’s integrity, functioning, and effectiveness of its institutions.”

“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria demonstrates the authorities’ determination to suppress all forms of peaceful dissent by the Nigerian people. There are well-founded fears that the human rights situation in Nigeria will deteriorate even further if urgent action is not taken to address it.”

“According to our information, the Nigerian government on Friday 4 June, 2021 unlawfully ordered all internet service providers to suspend Twitter in Nigeria. The suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria followed the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweets, which according to Twitter ‘violated the Twitter Rules”.

“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is taking place against the background of repression of the civic space and harassment of media houses, and journalists who are targeted simply for performing their professional duty.”

“The suspension of Twitter has seriously undermined transparency and accountability in government. The lack of transparency undermines the rule of law and Nigerians’ ability to participate in their own government.”

“Lack of transparency and accountability, and the absence of the rule of law in Nigeria have contributed hugely to denying Nigerians their fundamental human rights. People have been targeted simply for using Twitter and peacefully exercising their fundamental human rights.”

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