Twitter ban: Court fines SERAP ₦100,000 for suing Nigerian Govt

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A suit filed against the Federal Government for ordering television and radio stations to delete their Twitter accounts was dismissed by a Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday.

In a ruling, Justice Obiora Egwuatu dismissed the case as frivolous and awarded the plaintiff N100,000 in damages.

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In June, the Incorporated Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit against three defendants, with the case number FHC/ABJ/CS/496/21. The National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, the Director-General of NBC, and the Minister of Information and Culture were named as the first and third defendants in the suit, respectively.

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The suit was filed in response to an order from NBC, which asked all broadcasters to immediately stop supporting the social media giant after it was banned for breaking Nigerian laws.

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The group had requested a permanent injunction prohibiting the Federal Government and the regulator from “censoring, regulating, licensing, and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations, as well as the activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.”

It also asked for an injunction to overturn a directive that told broadcast stations they couldn’t use Twitter because it was “unconstitutional, unlawful, inconsistent, and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and the country’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

SERAP went on to say that the court had a critical role to play in protecting and preserving the rule of law, ensuring that people and institutions operate within the bounds of constitutional and statutory limitations.

The directive, it claimed, violated the principle of legality, as well as the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom, and was incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations, among other things.

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The first and second defendants asked the court to dismiss the case in their preliminary objections.

They claimed that the directive had no bearing on the plaintiff.

They went on to say that the move was made in the interest of the country’s national security, economy, and unity and that the lawsuit was filed in bad faith.

The defendants told the court that, in addition to Twitter, the plaintiff could access information and interact through other social media platforms such as Facebook and others.

In addition, his lawyer, Nelson Orji, the Minister of Information stated that the Federal Government operates within the bounds of the law and will not do anything to undermine it.

He claimed that the operation of Twitter, as well as other American microblogging and social media companies, in Nigerian cyberspace necessitated compliance with the law.

He told the court that the company had not been registered in Nigeria as required by law.

According to Orji, foreign businesses wishing to do business in Nigeria must register with the Corporate Affairs Commission as a Nigerian company under the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).

Twitter, as a company operating in the country, had not been paying taxes as required by law, according to the lawyer.

He told the court that the government had suspended its business operations pending its willingness to operate by Nigerian laws.

Orji also stated that, in addition to Twitter, other microblogging social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and others continue to operate in Nigeria, allowing Nigerians to freely disseminate information.

He went on to say that Twitter’s activities had become a threat to the country’s national security and citizens’ well-being.

“As provided for by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the primary role of government is to ensure the security and welfare of the people,” Orji had told the court.

He claimed that Twitter’s ban for breaking the law had no bearing on SERAP’s rights.

The plaintiff’s fundamental rights had not been violated, according to Justice Egwuatu, because the freedom of expression guaranteed by Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is not absolute.

He claims that the section is limited by Section 45(1), which deals with defence, public safety, public health, and public morality, among other things.

The judge ruled that because the media outlets that SERAP sued did not object to the ban, the plaintiff could not weep more than the bereaved.

He also agreed with the defendants that the plaintiff could express himself on other microblogging platforms such as Facebook and others.

When national security is threatened, Egwuatu believes that fundamental human rights issues take a back seat.

Furthermore, he stated that Twitter was not a legally registered company in the country.

The defendants were awarded a cost of N100,000 by Justice Egwuatu, who dismissed the suit for lack of merit.

NAN

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