ECOWAS Court to Deliver Judgment on January 20 in Consolidated Suits by MRA and Others Against Nigeria Over Suspension of Twitter

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Edward Amoako Asante
ECOWAS Court President

The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice will deliver its judgment on January 20, 2022 in four consolidated suits filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), other non-governmental organisations, journalists and some Nigerian citizens challenging the June 4, 2021 decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria to suspend access to Twitter in Nigeria.

The Court 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. 

But against the objection of the Nigerian Government, the Court also granted the requests by several international human rights organizations to be admitted as “amici curiae” (friends of the court) to enable them to intervene in the matter and offer the court insights into why the Nigerian Government’s suspension of Twitter amounted to an interference with the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, access to information, political participation and socio-economic rights in the internet age.

The organizations are Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Amnesty International (AI), Access Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Open Net Foundation.

The Court had 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.