By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja “to stop the Federal Government and the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Muhammed from using their patently unlawful directive to all television and radio stations not to use Twitter and delete their accounts.
SERAP, described the directive as a pretext to harass, intimidate, suspend or impose criminal punishment on journalists and broadcast stations simply for using social media platforms.
The suit followed the order by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) asking TV and radio stations to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”, and telling them to delete ‘unpatriotic’ Twitter after the social media giant was banned in the country for deleting President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/496/2021 filed last Friday, by SERAP’s lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi, and Opeyemi Owolabi, the organization maintained that; “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr Lai Muhammed and any other persons from censoring, regulating, licensing and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations, and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.”
In the suit, SERAP also sought; “an order setting aside the directive by NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed asking broadcast stations to stop using Twitter, as it is 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 stated that: “The government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr Lai Muhammed have consistently made policies and given directives to crack down on media freedom, and the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and access to information, and to impose crippling fines and other sanctions on broadcast stations without any legal basis whatsoever.”
According to SERAP, the suit read in part: “The court has an important role to play in the protection and preservation of the rule of law to ensure that persons and institutions operate within the defined ambit of constitutional and statutory limitations.”
“The directive by the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed to broadcasters to delete their Twitter accounts is unlawful, as it amounts to a fundamental breach of the principle of legality, the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom, and incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations.
“SERAP and concerned Nigerians are entitled to the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom subject only to lawful restrictions. SERAP and concerned Nigerians frequently rely on the Twitter handles of many broadcast stations as sources of information for our activities in the promotion of transparency and accountability in the country.
“Nigeria is a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which impose legal obligations on the government of President Buhari to ensure that the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom are respected, promoted, protected, fulfilled, and not unlawfully restricted.”
“The NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed have not shown any law breached by journalists, broadcast stations and media houses in Nigeria, and the government of President Buhari cannot use any disagreement with Twitter as a ploy to violate Nigerians’ rights, and undermine their individual businesses and professional duties,” among others.
Meantime, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.