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Twitter Ban: Fmr NBA 1st VP Drags FG To Court, Says It Violates Right To Freedom Of Speech

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Monday Ubani, the former first Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, has taken the Federal Government of Nigeria to court over the ban on Twitter in Nigeria.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Ministry of Information and Culture, and the Nigerian Communication Commission are the first, second, third, and fourth defendants in the suit, which was brought by way of Originating Summons for the enforcement of fundamental rights.

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Ubani is seeking a declaration that the suspension of Twitter without court order contravenes right to freedom of speech entrenched in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. The reliefs read:

“1. A DECLARATION that the indefinite suspension of Twitter by the 1st, Respondent without an order of a competent court of jurisdiction is unlawful and violates the fundamental right of the Applicant to freedom of expression, freedom to hold opinions and receive and impact ideas and information without interference as guaranteed by section 39(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.

“2. A DECLARATION that the instruction given to the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) by the 4th Respondent to stop Nigerians (including the Applicant) from getting access to Twitter violates the fundamental right of the Applicant to freedom of expression, freedom to hold opinions and receive and impact ideas and information without interference as guaranteed by section 39(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.

“3. A DECLARATION that the directive given to the security operatives and the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPP) by the 3rd Respondent to arrest and immediately prosecute users of Twitter in Nigeria (including the Applicant) infringes on the fundamental right of the Applicant to freedom of expression, freedom to hold opinions and receive and impact ideas and information without interference as guaranteed by section 39(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, and a gross violation of Section 36(12) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which forbids any act or omission to be referred to as a crime unless a written law says so.

“4. AN ORDER of this Honorable Court setting aside the indefinite suspension, ban, sanction or other punishment whatsoever imposed on twitter, the Applicant and other Nigerians and any social media service provider by the Respondents and their agents.

“5. AN ORDER directing the 1st Respondent to immediately revoke, withdraw and/or rescind their suspension or ban of Twitter or any other social media service providers in Nigeria as same violates sections 39(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.

“6. AN ORDER directing the 4th Respondent to immediately revoke, withdraw and/or rescind the formal instruction given to ALTON to suspend access to Twitter in Nigeria as same violates sections 39(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.

“7. AN ORDER of perpetual injunction restraining the Respondents and their agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions and other punishment, including criminal prosecution or doing anything whatsoever to harass, the Applicant, Nigerians, Twitter and any social media service provider in Nigeria.”

Ubani, in his grounds of the application says he is one out of over 40 million Nigerians that subscribes and uses twitter to carry out his daily business and operational activities, access information, send and receive information, and freely communicate information and ideas about public and political issues.

He said President Muhammadu Buhari is also one of the many Nigerian Citizens that subscribes and uses Twitter to access, disseminate and receive information, share ideas and opinions.

He added that Twitter like every other social media platform has laid down rules of engagement which is a very key condition to become a user, and every user agrees to abide by their laid down Rules of engagement, which President Muhammadu Buhari in his capacity as a Nigerian citizen, also agreed to before he was permitted to became a user of Twitter.

He said, “one of such Rules of engagement laid down by Twitter is that users must not make posts that incite or promote violence, harassment, abusive comments or other similar types of behaviour.”

Giving background of the situation, Ubani narrated in his affidavit that
on the 2nd day of June, 2021, President Buhari in his personal official Twitter account made a post which stated that: “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand”.

“That Millions of Nigerians found this post offensive, and some felt it was a threat of genocide against the cultural group of Igbo people, and reported same to Twitter. Twitter considered it as a violation of their rules of engagement (abusive behavior policy) which @MBuhari agreed to abide by. Consequently, the said tweet was deleted.

“That two days after deleting the said offensive tweet from the official personal Twitter account of the President of Nigeria @MBuhari, the president who felt his personal ego has been badly bruised and punctured, directed the 3rd Respondent to make a press release suspending Twitter operations in Nigeria indefinitely.

“The 3rd Respondent through its special assistant on media, Segun Adeyemi, announced on Friday, 4th June, 2021 announced that the 1st Respondent has indefinitely suspended Twitter’s operations in Nigeria, to wit:” The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria”. Same was published by various print media. One of such publications is hereby attached and marked Exhibit A. The Respondents have also threatened to take similar action against other social media sites.

“That on the strength of the said announcement, the 4th Respondent directed the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), to suspend access to Twitter in Nigeria

“That the 2nd Respondent acting on the strength of the said suspension ordered security operatives to arrest Nigerians, (including the Applicant) who are still using Twitter, and further directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the 1st Defendant’s De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria, and speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay. The statement was released on the 5th day of June, 2021 by the 2nd Respondent’s Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu. The said statement is hereby attached and marked Exhibit B.

“That this directives by the Respondents has infringed on my fundamental right to freedom of expression, freedom to hold opinions and receive and impact ideas and information without interference as guaranteed by section 39(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.

“That acting on the directive of the 4th Respondent, the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), directed all Internet Service Providers to stop Nigerians (including myself) from getting on to Twitter, and since the 4th day of June, 2021, my internet Service provider (MTN) has blocked me from assessing information, sending and receiving information, sharing views and opinions through Twitter. The press release to this effect by ALTON dated Saturday June 05, 2021 is attached herewith and marked Exhibit C.

“That this violates my fundamental right to freedom of expression, freedom to hold opinions and receive and impact ideas and information without interference as guaranteed by Section 39(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.

“That it is very unfair, and constitute gross act of injustice for the Respondents to deny me (and over 40 million Nigerians who also uses Twitter) my Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to freedom of expression, and to send and receive information without interefence just because one Nigerian citizen felt offended by the fact that Twitter deleted his personal post.

“That I did not violate any Section of the Nigerian Constitution in the exercise of my right and freedom of expression through the use of Twitter to warrant the Respondents denying me of my sacrosanct Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to freedom of expression.

“That the decision taken by the Respondents to suspend Twitter and the directive given by the 2nd Respondent to security operatives and Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to arrest and immediately prosecute me (and any other Nigerian) found using Twitter is draconian, dictatorial and autocratic, and should not be allowed to flourish in a nascent democracy like ours.

“That granting this application will not only serve the interest of justice and fairness, but will safeguard my constitutional inalienable right (as well as that of over 40 million Nigerians who have Twitter accounts) to freedom of expression.”

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