Lawyers fault Lai Mohammed’s claim that Twitter CEO is liable for #EndSARS violence

LAWYERS have faulted the claim by  Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed that Twitter Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jack Dorsey is liable for the violent outcome of #EndSARS protests in Nigeria.

Mohammed had, on Wednesday, said Dorsey was ‘vicariously liable’ for the violence and destruction of property that occurred during the protest because he tweeted in support of the demonstrations.

In October 2020, Nigerian youths had protested against extra-judicial killings and other forms of police brutality perpetrated by men of the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force.

However, the protest eventually turned violent, resulting in loss of lives and destruction of properties across different states in Nigeria.

During the protest, Dorsey had posted the bitcoin account through which funds were raised for the protests.

Following the recent feud between Twitter and the Nigerian government, Mohammed said Dorsey shared an Emoji to attract local and foreign support for the protest and promoted bitcoin donations for the movement. He said as a result, the Twitter chief executive was liable for the outcome.

“If you ask people to donate money via bitcoins for #EndSARS protesters then you are vicariously liable for whatever is the outcome of the protest,” Mohammed said.

Lawyers Speak

Reacting to the minister’s position, some lawyers have said Dorsey’s support for the protest does not make him responsible for its outcome.

In an interview with The ICIR, an Abuja-based lawyer Uche Alum said there was no justification in law for what the minister said.

According to Alum, Dorsey could not be vicariously responsible because he did not sponsor the protest.

“If he provided a platform for everybody to hear their views and gave them support, he has not done anything wrong. The government is trying to play the ostrich,” Alum said.

He noted that the government was only trying to mix politics with the law by saying he was vicariously responsible.

Alum said the Nigerian government was against human rights and anyone who was against human rights violations had automatically become its enemy.

“Even if he had an office in Nigeria and is registered here, he can still not be liable. It is preposterous to say that someone who is a rights activist is directly or vicariously liable for the actions of some other people.

“The #EndSARS campaign was acted by Nigerians who sought international support. Assuming Dorsey sponsored the protest, why would the government leave Nigerians carrying out the protest and attack the sponsor,” Alum said.

“When President Muhammadu Buhari posted a civil war threat on Twitter, does that mean that Dorsey was responsible for it because the president used tweeter to do so?” he asked.

Secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Collins Osiagwu said that Mohammed’s argument was baseless.

Osiagwu said it was more of an opinion rather than what the Nigerian law stipulated.

He said, “For instance, it (vicarious liability) can be about an employer and employee and principal and agent where the actions of an employee/agent are the responsibility of the principal/employer.”

He also expressed suspicions over the motive behind Mohammed’s comment, noting that the minister did not talk about Dorsey’s liability before he removed the president’s civil war post.

When asked if the Nigerian government could sue Twitter for such damages, a lawyer with the Gamzaki Law Chamber Olayinka Olaore said it was impossible because there were no terms and conditions binding the former and the latter.

“Holding Dorsey liable for the #EndSARS protest might be impossible except where terms and conditions are guiding the cyberspace relationship between Nigeria as a country and Twitter, but there is none.”

She noted that section 78 (1) of the Companies and Allied Act 2020 stated that “Non-registration of company stipulates that the company shall not have a place of business or an address for service of documents or processes in Nigeria for any purpose other than receipt of notices and other documents concerning preliminary incorporation matters.”

Olaore further noted that only a social media regulatory law could create room for terms and conditions that would guide both parties’ activities and set boundaries.

Lukman Abolade is an Investigative reporter with The ICIR. Reach out to him via, on twitter @AboladeLAA and FB @Correction94

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