The Ecowas Court on Thursday ruled that President Muhammadu Buhari violated the rights of Nigerians when he illegally ordered the restriction of Twitter in June 2021.
The regional court said Mr Buhari’s action was unlawful and in defiance of Article 9 of the African Charter and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The case was instituted by different civil liberties advocates and media rights practitioners following the controversial and illegal disruption of the social network giant in Nigeria that began on June 4, 2021.
Mr Buhari issued the ordered to block Twitter in Nigeria after the platform removed his tweets threatening genocide against the Igbo ethnic nationalities of the country’s South-East.
It received global condemnation, and organisations and individuals, including Peoples Gazette as represented by our Managing Editor Samuel Ogundipe, filed the lawsuit.
Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, an Abuja based legal practitioner, instituted the case on behalf of the groups, who highlighted individual damages emanating from the unconstitutional restrictions.
Buhari regime officials said the administration ordered the ban because Twitter had become a force for negative tendencies in Nigeria, but failed to cite legal grounds for its action.
During arguments, the government raised people’s eyebrows when it admitted that it “legally” violated the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
Although the ruling may be more symbolic than actionable because of the court’s status as an administrative panel with little influence on sovereign member-countries, the government had relaxed the ban in mid-January while the case was underway, but publicly claimed Twitter had succumbed to its demands to open offices in Nigeria and follow its dictates on policing Nigerians’ speech on the platform.
Twitter has yet to set up any offices in Nigeria six months after the government rescinded its decision, strengthening suspicion that the administration lied about its successes during talks with Twitter in order to save face from the worldwide ridicule that greeted the restriction.
Attorney-General Abubakar Malami in his submission to the Abuja-headquartered court also said Twitter had apologised and promised to respect the administration’s suggestions on social media use in Nigeria. Twitter did not comment on the government’s claim.
“Although we had expected this judgement a long time ago, we’ll still take it,” Ms Ogunlana-Nkanga said in a statement after today’s judgement. “Now we can have closure. It may not be the kind of justice we want but it’s still a valuable one for the protection of the freedom of expression and the civic space of the entire continent.”