THE Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court sitting in Abuja on Thursday declared that President Muhammadu Buhari violated the rights of Nigerians when he banned Twitter in the country.
The court, according to a statement by the Deputy Director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) Kolawole Oluwadare, also ordered the Nigerian government not to repeat the action.
The Federal Government banned Twitter in Nigeria after the micro-blogging platform deleted a tweet by Buhari.
The tweet made reference to the Nigerian Civil War during which millions of people from the South-East were killed.
Following the ban, SERAP and 176 concerned Nigerians filed a suit against the Federal Government at the ECOWAS Court in Abuja.
In the judgment delivered on Thursday, the ECOWAS Court declared that the ban on Twitter was unlawful and inconsistent with the provisions of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“The Buhari administration in suspending the operations of Twitter violates the rights of SERAP and 176 concerned Nigerians to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and the media, as well as the right to fair hearing,” the court ruled.
The court also ordered the Buhari administration to take necessary steps to align its policies and other measures to give effect to rights and freedoms, and to guarantee a non-repetition of the unlawful Twitter ban.
In the same vein, the court ordered the Buhari administration to bear the costs of the proceedings and directed the Deputy Chief Registrar to assess the costs accordingly.
Reacting to the judgment, SERAP’s lawyer Femi Falana, SAN, said, “We commend the ECOWAS Court for the landmark judgment in the case of SERAP v Federal Republic of Nigeria in which the judges unanimously upheld the human rights of community citizens to freedom of expression, and access to information.
“Even though the Court had granted an interim order of injunction last year which restrained the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, from prosecuting Nigerians who defied the Twitter ban, SERAP deserves special commendation for pursuing the matter to a logical conclusion.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and the full enjoyment of this right is central to achieving individual freedom and to developing democracy. It is not only the cornerstone of democracy, but indispensable to a thriving civil society.”
Falana noted that with the latest decision of the court to declare the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria illegal, it is hoped that leaders of ECOWAS countries will henceforth respect and uphold citizens’ rights to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.