In a major ruling, the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja on Tuesday ruled that the Nigerian government has no locus standi to arrest and prosecute Twitter users in the country pending the determination of the suit brought before it.
The court also stopped the federal government from prosecuting social media service providers, radio and television broadcast stations, using the microblogging site to disseminate news.
Following the suspension of Twitter operations in the country by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, many Nigerians have been bypassing the restrictions via Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to access the platform. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) had also threatened to prosecute violators of the ban.
But the ECOWAS court gave an injuction on Tuesday, stopping the goverment from prosecuting Nigerian Twitter users pending the hearing and determination of the suit instituted by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians.
In the lawsuit marked ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21, the applicants argued that the suspension of Twitter by the Federal Government and criminalisation of Nigerians and others using the social media platform has “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.”
After hearing arguments from Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana (SAN) and lawyer to the government Maimuna Shiru, the court said that the interference with Twitter is a violation of human rights urging the Nigerian government to take immediate steps to implement the order.
It stressed the need to hear the matter as soon as possible and adjourned until July 6, 2021, for the hearing of the substantive suit.
Reaction to the ruling, legal icon, Falana said it is a timely relief for millions of Nigerians using Twitter.
“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”, he said.