Five non-governmental organizations and four journalists have filed a complaint with the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja, requesting that the government declare the indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria a violation of their human rights under international law, order the government to immediately rescind the suspension order, and compensate them for the violation of their rights.
The NGO applicants in the suit are Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Paradigm Initiative for Information Technology Development (PIN), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the International Press Centre (IPC), and Tap Initiative for Citizens Development (TICD) while the journalists are David Hundeyin, Samuel Ogundipe, Blessing Oladunjoye, and Nwakamri Zakari Apollo.
The suit, lodged with number ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21 ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21, in a 73-page documentation, was filed on their behalf by Abuja-based human rights and free expression lawyer, Mojirayo Nkanga, under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, and the Nigerian Constitution, among others.
They are claiming that Nigeria’s ongoing suspension of Twitter, which came into effect on or around June 4, 2021, violated their right to freedom of expression and interfered with the ability of the journalists to do their work.
The NGOs and journalists are also alleging that the general situation in Nigeria with respect to human rights, has created an environment where freedom of expression is stifled, which has contributed to creating a chilling effect on press and media freedom and which the ongoing suspension of Twitter is a continuation of.
According to them, Nigeria has consented to be bound by the obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression under the ICCPR and the ACHPR and therefore, any limitation imposed by the government on the right to freedom of expression can only be justifiable where the restriction is provided by law, serves a legitimate aim, and is necessary and proportionate in a democratic society.
The NGOs and journalists are asking the court to declare the indefinite suspension of Twitter a continuous violation of their human rights under international law, particularly the right to seek and receive information as well as the right to express and disseminate opinions under Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter; Article 19(2) of the ICCPR and the rights of journalists under Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty.
They are also seeking a declaration that the government’s directive, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), for the deactivation of Twitter accounts in Nigeria violates their human rights under international law and that the threat by the Attorney-General of the Federation to criminally prosecute anybody found to be using Twitter in Nigeria following the suspension of the platform also violates their human rights under international law.