Court Again Adjourns MRA Suit Challenging Nigerian Government’s Power to Suspend Twitter Operations

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Dr. Olukayode Ajulo (OON)
Member of MRA’s Network of Lawyers

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has again adjourned to November 1, 2023 hearing in a suit instituted by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) challenging  the authority of the Nigerian Government  to suspend Twitter operations in Nigeria

MRA, in the suit, also questioned the authority of NBC to direct licensed broadcasting stations as to where they should source their news and information, which MRA considered an infringement of freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as Amended).

This followed the statement issued on June 4, 2021, by the then Minister of information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who stated that the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria was due to “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”. He also said in the statement that the Nigerian Government had directed the NBC to immediately commence the process of issuing licences for Over The Top (OTT) and social media operations in Nigeria, warning that social media operators will be considered to be operating unlawfully if they do not hold a license.

MRA commenced the legal action by way of Originating Summons on July 19, 2021 at the Federal high Court Abuja through its lawyer Dr. Olukayode Ajulo, (OON) leading Zak Babah, Esq., Prof Bukola O. Akinola, Oludotun Sowemimo, Esq. Michael A. Emejulu, Esq. Aduloju Bamikole, Esq., Wole Adaja, Esq. Akinola Oladimeji, Esq., Ifunanya Jemilla Okeke, Esq. Eme Jackson Esq., Hamza Dantani, Esq., Akinsanmi Roseline, Esq. Aisha Bala Muhammed, Esq. and Tauyyib Kayode Shittu, Esq. challenging the propriety of the June 4, 2021 announcement made by the said Minister.

The suit was brought pursuant to Order 2 Rules 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5 of the fundamental rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 as Preserved by Section 315, Section 39 and 46 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.

MRA, in the suit, is seeking the following reliefs:

  1. A declaration that the indefinite suspension of Twitter by the Federal Government of Nigeria is an infringement of the MRA’s right to receive and impart information through any medium of its choice guaranteed and protected by Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004; Articles 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a violation of the treaty obligations of Nigeria under and by virtue of its being a signatory to the above legal instruments.
  • A declaration that the arbitrary act of the Federal Government of Nigeria to suspend the operation of Twitter in Nigeria without any authority or power under any law in existence in Nigeria violates the MRA’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004; Articles 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a violation of the treaty obligations of Nigeria under and by virtue of its being a signatory to the above legal instruments.
  • A declaration that the indefinite suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria is a continuous violation of the MRA’s rights under Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004; Articles 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a violation of the treaty obligations of Nigeria under and by virtue of its being a signatory to the above legal instruments.
  • A declaration that the NBC not being the regulatory authority over social media platforms lacks the power to impose the application of broadcast licence on social media platforms as social media platforms are not broadcasting stations under the National Broadcasting Act CAP NII, Laws of the Federation 2004 or any other law, Statute or subsidiary legislation in existence in Nigeria, hence violates the MRA’s right under Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004; Articles 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a violation of the treaty obligations of Nigeria under and by virtue of its being a signatory to the above legal instruments.
  • A Declaration that the directives of the NBC directing broadcasting stations to deactivate their Twitter handles and not use Twitter as a source of information gathering for their news and programmes is ultra vires and it violates the MRA’s fundamental rights to seek and receive information and to express and disseminate opinions under its right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004; Articles 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a violation of the treaty obligations of Nigeria under and by virtue of its being a signatory to the above legal instruments. That the regulatory authority of the NBC does not extend to directing licensed broadcasting stations where they should source their news and information and neither does the NBC have the power to instruct broadcasting stations to deactivate their Twitter handles under the National Broadcasting Act CAP NII, Laws of the Federation 2004 or any other law in enforce.
  • A declaration that, the AGF’s threat to criminally prosecute any individual found to be using Twitter in Nigeria following the order to suspend the platform is unconstitutional and a violation of the MRA’s right to seek and receive information and to express and disseminate opinions under Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004; Articles 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a violation of the treaty obligations of Nigeria under and by virtue of its being a signatory to the above legal instruments.
  • A declaration that it is not within the regulatory authority of the NBC under the National Broadcasting Act CAP NII, Laws of the Federation 2004 or any other law in existence in Nigeria to determine whether a broadcasting station is patriotic or not.
  • A perpetual injunction restraining the AGF and NBC, their servants and agents from unlawful imposition of sanctions or restrictions on Twitter or any other social media platform, and from harassment intimidation, arrest, detention or prosecution of the MRA over its use of Twitter and/or any other social media platform or in any other manner infringing on or interfering with the fundamental rights of MRA as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act cap D9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004; Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 19 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights until such time as this matter is determined.

The matter came up on October 19, 2022 for mention but the court set the suit down and adjourned for hearing. However, due to the absence of the AGF and lack of legal representation, the Court ordered hearing notice to be served on the parties.

The Court has served hearing notice on all parties, notifying them that hearing of the substantive matter has been scheduled to hold on June 26, 2023.