Tuesday, 6 July, 2021: The ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja today adjourned proceedings to July 9, 2021 in the suit filed against the Federal Government of Nigeria by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), along with four other non-governmental organizations and four journalists over the indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.
The adjournment is to enable the Court to decide whether to grant the Nigerian Government’s motion to consolidate all the four suits brought against it over the Twitter ban.
The other NGOs challenging the Twitter ban with MRA are Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the International Press Centre (IPC), and Tap Initiative for Citizens Development (TICD) while the journalists who are also contesting it are Mr. David Hundeyin, Mr. Samuel Ogundipe, Ms Blessing Oladunjoye, and Mr. Nwakamri Zakari Apollo.
The suit, filed on their behalf by Abuja-based human rights and free expression lawyer, Mrs. Mojirayo Ogunlana Nkanga, was scheduled for today for the Court to hear their application for “provisional measures”, in which they are asking the Court for:
- An interim order restraining the Government, its servants and agents from the unlawful imposition of sanctions on Twitter or any other social media platform, and from harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention or prosecution of the Applicants, or any other users of Twitter and/or any other social media platform, in violation of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), until the matter has been determined;
- An interim order restraining the Government, its servants and agents from harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention or prosecution of the Applicants, or any other users of Twitter and/or any other social media platform, in violation of the ACHPR and the ICCPR until the matter has been determined;
- An interim order restraining the Government, its servants and agents from imposing unlawful restrictions on the Applicants’ or any other users’ access to Twitter and/or any other social media platform whether through regulation or otherwise until the matter has been determined; and
- An interim order restraining the Government, its servants and agents from shutting down, throttling or otherwise restricting access to the Internet until the matter has been determined.
However, when the matter was called at today’s virtual hearing, along with a separate suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 Nigerians, also against the Government, the lawyer representing the Government, Mr. Abdullahi Abubakar, told the court that the Government had a motion to consolidate all the four suits before the court on the Twitter ban.
According to him, the motion dated July, 5, 2021, is seeking leave of the court to consolidate the hearing of the applications pending before the court and other orders that the court may deem fit in the circumstance.
The lead counsel to SERAP, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), did not object to the application, saying the consolidation of the suits would enable the court to give one judgment in the matters since they are similar in nature and character.
Mrs. Ogunlana-Nkanga also raised no objection to the application for consolidation.
The Court, however, noted that although the applicants in the four suits are different, the respondent in the matters is the same and the subject matter is the same. But the judge said since the other two cases are before another panel of the Court and the parties are not represented at the hearing, it could not make any order for consolidation without hearing from them or knowing what their position is on the matter.
The Court therefore adjourned to July 9 to enable it resolve some issues.