A federal high court in Abuja has dismissed a suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) challenging the ban on the use of Twitter.
On June 4, the federal government suspended the operations of the microblogging and social networking service in Nigeria.According to the statement released by Lai Mohammed, minister of information, “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.Consequently, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) directed broadcasting stations in the country to stop using Twitter.
SERAP had, in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/496/21, sued the NBC, its director-general and the minister of information and culture for issuing the directive.The group had sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the federal government and the regulators from “censoring, regulating, licensing and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria”.
It also sought an order setting aside the directive asking broadcast stations to stop using Twitter, as being “unconstitutional, unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and the country’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.
In their preliminary objections, the first and second defendants urged the court to dismiss the suit.They argued that the directive did not in any way affect the plaintiff.They further averred that the action was taken in the interest of the country’s national security, economy and unity, adding that the suit was filed “in bad faith”.In addition, Lai Mohammed, minister of information, through his lawyer, Nelson Orji, said the federal government operates within the bounds of the law and will not do anything to undermine it.
He claimed that the operations of Twitter, an American microblogging and social media company, in Nigeria’s cyberspace necessitated compliance with the law.He also told the court that the company had not been registered in Nigeria as required by law.Delivering judgment on Thursday, Obiora Egwuatu, the presiding judge, held that the fundamental rights of the plaintiff had not been breached because the freedom of expression provided for under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is not absolute.He stated that the section is limited under Section 45(1) which deals with the issues of defence, public safety, public health, and public morality.The judge ruled that because the media outlets that SERAP sued did not object to the ban, the plaintiff could not “weep more than the grieving”.
He also agreed with the defendants that the plaintiff might use other microblogging platforms such as Facebook.Egwuatu said when national security is threatened, the issues of fundamental human rights take second stage.He also agreed that Twitter was not a registered company in the country as required by the law.The judge dismissed the suit for lacking merit and awarded N100,000 cost in favour of the defendants.
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