The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) Court sitting in Abuja has given an order restraining the Nigerian government from imposing sanctions or harassing, intimidating, arresting, or prosecuting Twitter or its users in the country.
SaharaReporters obtained the court ruling dated June 22, 2021, in which the injunction prevents the government from carrying out those actions against other social media platforms, media houses, radio, and television broadcast stations.
The order of the ECOWAS court stands on Nigeria pending the determination of the case.
The court gave the order with Ruling Number ECW/CCJ/RUL/03/21 in the suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians against the Federal Government over the suspension of Twitter in the country.
After hearing arguments for and against the matter, the Court decided that it was cloaked with jurisdiction.
As a suit bordering on the infringement of human rights, the Court determined that it had the right to hear the case.
The Nigerian government had suspended the microblogging site earlier in the month after it deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari, which mentioned that there would be civil war-like consequences for those drumming secession for the country.
Subsequently, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had ordered the prosecution of anyone found using the platform.
This was met with varying levels of criticism which eventually led to the suit filed by SERAP.
SERAP has also filed a claim against the government in the Federal High Court on the same matter.
SERAP’s suit is one in the string of cases filed or threatened to be filed against the Nigerian government on this issue.
In the suit filed before the ECOWAS Court, SERAP was represented by human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, as well as Oluwadare Kolawole and Opeyemi Owolabi.
SERAP was the applicant while the Federal Republic of Nigeria was the respondent. The case was heard before Justice Gberi-Be Ouattara, Justice Keikura Bangura, and Justice Januaria Moreira Costa.
The court ruling obtained by SaharaReporters partly reads, “The court having considered all the submissions made by the parties therein, is convinced that the granting the Applicant’s prayer to lift the suspension under the conditions stated will amount to chasing the wind. The court, therefore, declines to order the respondents and their agents to lift the dispersion on Twitter.
“For the reasons stated above, the court sitting in public after hearing both parties; one, declare that it has jurisdiction to hear and determine the application; two, dismisses the preliminary objection of the respondent on both grounds.
“Three; orders that the application be heard expeditiously; four, orders the respondent and its agents to refrain from imposing sanctions on any media house or harassing, intimidating, arresting or prosecuting the applicant or concerned Nigerians for the use of Twitter and other social media platforms, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”