ECOWAS Court Dismisses Nigerian Government’s Motion to Strike out Suits over Twitter Ban, Sets May 10 for Judgment

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Mrs. Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga
Member of MRA’s Network of Lawyers

The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has dismissed a motion by Federal Government of Nigeria seeking to prevent it from delivering its judgment and to strike out the four consolidated suits filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), other non-governmental organisations, journalists and some Nigerian citizens challenging the Government’s June 4, 2021 decision to suspend access to Twitter in Nigeria.

The Court ruled, after hearing the lawyers to the parties on February 16, 2022 that the Nigerian Government’s application to stop its judgment in the matter was frivolous and lacked merit and accordingly dismissed it.  It therefore adjourned the matter to May 10, 2022 when it will now deliver its verdict.

The Court had previously adjourned the cases for judgment on September 29, 2021 after hearing the arguments of the lawyers to the parties in the suits, including the lead counsel for MRA and the eight other applicants in the suit, Mrs. Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, all of whom also formally adopted their written submissions.

The applicants are contending that the suspension of the social media platform, Twitter, in Nigeria amounted to a violation of their fundamental rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

The consolidated suits are being heard by a panel of three judges consisting of Justice Gberi-Be- Ouattara, presiding; Justice Keikura Bangura, who is the judge rapporteur; and Justice Januaria Costa.

The four suits that were consolidated are:

  • Suit No. ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21 by Media Rights Agenda and three other non-governmental organizations, Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the International Press Centre (IPC), and Tap Initiative for Citizens Development (TICD) as well as four journalists, Mr. David Hundeyin, Mr. Samuel Ogundipe, Ms Blessing Oladunjoye, and Mr. Nwakamri Zakari Apollo;
  • Suit No. ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21, by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a Lagos-based NGO, and 176 Nigerians;
  • Suit No. ECW/CCJ/APP/26/21. by Mr. Patrick Elohor, President of the NGO, One Love Foundation; and
  • Suit No. ECW/CCJ/APP/24/21, by Chief Malcolm Omirhobo, a Lagos-based human rights lawyer.

The Court ordered the consolidation of the four separate suits challenging the indefinite suspension of Twitter at its hearing on July 9, 2021 following a motion by the lawyer representing the Nigerian Government, Mr. Abdullahi Abubakar, who applied for the suits to be heard together since they deal with the same subject matter. 

The Court had also earlier on June 22, 2021 issued provisional orders directing the Nigerian Government and its agents to refrain from imposing sanctions on any media house or harassing, intimidating, arresting or prosecuting the applicants or concerned Nigerians for the use of Twitter and other social media platforms pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit. The Court restated the provisional measures at its July 9, 2021 hearing, during which it ordered all the parties to ensure compliance with its decision.

A week before the January 20, 2022 date initially fixed by the Court for its judgment in the suits, the Nigerian Government announced on January 12, 2022 the lifting of Twitter’s suspension through the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mr. Kashifu Abdullahi, saying it had reached an agreement with Twitter on the resolution of the matter.

The Government, through its lawyer, Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru, thereafter filed an application dated January 20, 2022 asking the ECOWAS Court to strike out the suits for being devoid of purpose, for being an academic exercise and the subject matter having ceased to be in existence.

Following the dismissal of the motion, the Court has now fixed May 10, 2022 as the new date for judgement in the consolidated suits.