The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, an American non-governmental organization (NGO), has been hailed as a victory for online expression in Nigeria, the judgment delivered by the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in four consolidated cases challenging the indefinite suspension of Twitter by the Federal Government. The cases were filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Paradigm Initiative (PIN), the International Press Centre (IPC) as well as and other organisations.
The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice ruled on July 14, 2022 that the indefinite suspension of access to Twitter in Nigeria by Federal Government in June 2021 was unlawful and violated the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Court ordered the Government to guarantee that it would not repeat the unlawful ban on Twitter.
The group noted that the Court ruled that the suspension of access to Twitter was unlawful and inconsistent with the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression, access to information and the media protected under the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The judgment ordered Nigeria to “take necessary steps to align its policies and other measures to give effect to the rights and freedoms” protected by the law.
Mr. Ikechukwu Uzoma, staff attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights said: “This decision reiterates existing jurisprudence on the centrality of access to the internet and social media platforms to freedom of expression, association and assembly among others, The internet is an enabler of civic participation and governments must fulfill their obligation to promote and protect its use.”
Acknowledging the worrying trend of internet shutdowns across the world, the court ordered the government of Nigeria to “guarantee the non-repetition of the unlawful ban on Twitter and undertake legislative and other measures on the use of Twitter to enable the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression” The Nigerian Twitter ban was one of 182 state-ordered internet shutdowns recorded globally in 2021.
Reacting to the judgment, Mr. Kolawole Oluwadare, Deputy Director, SERAP said “The ECOWAS Court judgment is a victory for civic space and democracy in Nigeria. I hope this victory resonates with good governance in Nigeria and freedom of expression in Africa. Government cannot continue to stifle freedom of expression and expect robust civic participation. State parties must do better to protect and promote human rights”.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights called on Nigeria to implement the judgment of the ECOWAS Court and desist from actions that unlawfully restrict the rights of the people in Nigeria. The organisation participated in the case as amicus curiae (friend of the court).