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SERAP sues FG for blocking 72M mobile phone numbers

By Monsurudeen Olowoopejo

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over a failure to unblock mobile lines of over 72 Nigerians that were yet to link their Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) to the National Identity Number (NIN).
SERAP said that the decision by the Buhari-led administration was a violation of human rights and asked that the court set aside the directive mandating telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines across the country.
According to the group, the directives were inconsistent with the requirements of legality, a necessity as well as proportionality and should not be allowed to exist further.
The suit followed the recent directive by the Federal Government to telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines after the window for verification expired, a decision that affected over 72 million subscribers.
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/711/2022 filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos and revealed on Sunday, SERAP appealed that the court should compel the President and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, to reverse their directives, due to the unlawful process the exercise was conducted.
In a statement made available to newsmen bySERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, it added that the court should direct the President Buhari to ensure adequate infrastructure and logistics were provided for Nigerians including persons with disabilities, older persons, and persons living in remote areas, to capture their data and conclude registration to obtain National Identity Number (NIN).
According to the statement, directing and compelling the Federal Government to unblock the phone lines unlawfully barred would be entirely consistent with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], and the country’s international obligations to respect, protect, and promote socio-economic rights.
“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 end result will be anarchy, and authoritarianism, leading to the loss of the much cherished and constitutionally guaranteed freedom and liberty.”
“It is in the interest of justice to grant this application. Access to telecommunications services is a condition sine qua non for the effective exercise of human rights. Therefore, the decision to block people from making calls is discriminatory, and a travesty.”
In the suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, the group argued that it was against people’s right to freedom of expression, and access to information, as well as their right to associate with others.
“The blocking of people from making calls on their SIMs also amounts to an arbitrary or unlawful interference with their right to family life, and socio-economic rights, as it unnecessarily or disproportionately interferes with these fundamental human rights.”
“Under international human rights law, States including Nigeria ‘shall not engage in or condone any disruption of access to digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.’ States must refrain from cutting off access to telecommunications services.”
“Millions of Nigerians including persons with disabilities, elderly citizens, persons living in remote areas have been unable to capture their biometrics, and obtain their NINs due to logistical challenges, administrative and bureaucratic burdens, as well as the persistent collapse of the national grid.”

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