SERAP Sues Buhari, Lai over Failure to Publish Agreement with Twitter

todayFebruary 14, 2022 2

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Udora Orizu in Abuja

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over the failure to publish the terms and conditions of the agreement, which the federal government recently signed with Twitter Inc. before the lifting the ban on the micro-blogging and social networking service in Nigeria.

Joined in the suit, as respondent, was Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

The federal government had in January lifted the suspension of Twitter operation in Nigeria, stating, “Twitter has agreed to act with a respectful acknowledgement of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history.”
But in the suit, FHC/L/CS/238/2022, filed last Friday, at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP asked the court to direct and compel Buhari and Mohammed to release and widely publish copy of the agreement with Twitter, and the terms and conditions of any such agreement.

In the suit, SERAP argued that it was in the interest of justice to grant the application, saying publishing the agreement would enable Nigerians to scrutinise it, seek legal remedies as appropriate and ensure that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter were not used as pretexts to suppress legitimate discourse.
SERAP while noting that the minister responded to its freedom of information request, however said his response was completely unsatisfactory, as he merely stated that the details were in the public space, without sending a copy of the agreement as requested.

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part, “Nigerians are entitled to their 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 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.

“The statement by the federal government announcing the lifting of the suspension of Twitter after seven months used overly broad terms and phrases like ‘prohibited publication’, ‘Nigerian laws’, ‘national culture and history.’ These open-ended terms and phrases may be used to suppress legitimate exercise of human rights online. 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.

“Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee the right to hold opinions without interference, and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and through any medium.

“The 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. No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.”

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