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ECOWAS refrains FG from prosecuting Twitter users

By Idowu Abdullahi

The Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) Court of Justice sitting in Abuja has ordered the Federal Government to refrain from arresting and prosecuting Nigerians using microblogging platform, Twitter, across the country despite the ban emplaced on social media in Nigeria.

The court added that aside from the apex government that must desist from unlawfully imposing sanctions on social media service provider(s), media houses, radio and television broadcast stations, the country security agents are all restrained from harassing, intimidating, arresting, and prosecuting Twitter users.

It added that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government must maintain status quo pending the hearing and determination of suit filed against the government by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians over Twitter operation suspension.

The group had in the suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21 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.”

Giving the order on Tuesday after hearing arguments from Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana (SAN), and lawyer to the government Maimuna Shiru, the court described the suspension as a violation of Nigerians human rights and that the case would be heard and dealt with in accordance with the law.

“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 read

Reacting to the ruling, Falana, said described the intervention of the ECOWAS Court as a timely relief for millions of Nigerians using Twitter who have been threatened with prosecution under the provision of the Penal Code relating to sedition.

“Contrary to the assurance credited to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN that violators of the Twitter would not be prosecuted, the Federal Government filed processes in the ECOWAS Court threatening to prosecute Nigerians using Twitter for violating the suspension under the provisions of the Penal Code relating to sedition.

“It is extremely embarrassing that the Federal Government could threaten to jail Nigerians for sedition, which was annulled by the Court of Appeal in 1983, in the case of Arthur Nwankwo vs The State.”

However, the court adjourned to 6th July 2021 for hearing of the substantive suit.

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