By Olasunkanmi Akoni

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to provide it with a copy of the agreement recently signed with Twitter and to widely publish the details of any such agreement.

Recall that Mohammed on June 5, 2021, announced the suspension of operation of Twitter by the Federal Government, following which a seven-man Presidential Committee was set up to engage Twitter Incorporated.

The Presidential Committee in turn established a 20-member Technical Committee, which reportedly directly worked with the Twitter team.

SERAP also urged Buhari to direct Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed to clarify the manner and scope in which the agreement with Twitter will be enforced, including whether the agreement incorporates respect for human rights, consistent with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and international obligations.

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In a letter dated January 15, 2022 by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation maintained that publishing the agreement would enable Nigerians to scrutinize it, seek legal remedies as appropriate, and ensure that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter are not used as pretexts to suppress legitimate discourse.

SERAP said: “Publishing the agreement with Twitter would also promote transparency, accountability, and help to mitigate threats to Nigerians’ rights online, as well as any interference with online privacy in ways that deter the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression.”

According to SERAP, “Nigerians are entitled to their constitutionally and internationally recognized human rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, privacy, peaceful assembly and association, as well as public participation both offline and online.

The letter, read in part: “Any agreement with social media companies must meet constitutional and international requirements, including legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy.

“This means that any conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter must meet the requirements of regular legal processes and limit government discretion. Secretly agreed conditions will fail these fundamental requirements.

“The government has a duty to demonstrate that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter would not threaten or violate the enjoyment of Nigerians’ human rights online, and that the conditions are in pursuit of a legitimate goal in a democratic society.

“SERAP is concerned that the operation and enforcement of the agreement may be based on broadly worded restrictive laws, which may be used as pretexts to suppress legitimate discourse, interfere with online privacy, and deter the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression.

“Any agreement with social media companies must not be used as a ploy to tighten governmental control over access to the internet, monitor internet activity, or to increase online censorship and the capacity of the government to restrict legitimate online content, contrary to standards on freedom of expression and privacy.

“Your government has a legal obligation to promote universal Internet access, media diversity and independence, as well as ensure that any agreements with Twitter and other social media companies are not used to impermissibly restrict these fundamental human rights.

“We would be grateful if the requested information and details are provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal action in the public interest to compel your government to comply with our request.

“According to our information, the approval was given to lift the suspension of Twitter operation in Nigeria effective from 12am 13th January 2022 following the memo sent to you by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Ali Ibrahim. The decision to lift the suspension was reportedly based on the recommendations by the Technical Committee on Nigeria-Twitter Engagement,” among others.

The letter was copied to Mohammed and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN.

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