Twitter ban: NBA drags Buhari, NCC, others to court

 Federal High Court,  in Lagos will on October 4th, commenced hearing of a suit filed by umbrella body of practicing lawyers, the Nigerian Bar Association (ÑBA) challenging the  suspension of the use of Twitter in the country.

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has sued President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and others over the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.

 NBA stated in a document filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos that “the actions and directives of the respondents gravely infringed the fundamental rights ” of the applicant and it’s members .

The defendants are President Muhammadu Buhari, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) who were listed as the first to fourth defendants, respectively.

According to the plaintiff/applicant no law criminalizes the use of Twitter in Nigeria, it claimed.

Olumide Akpata ,NBA President.

The association further complained that Buhari and the other respondents “unilaterally, without due process and contrary to the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the applicant, suspended the operations of the microblogging and social media website” in Nigeria.

NBA therefore  prayed  the court to hold that the ban on Twitter amounted to “a violent breach of the applicant’s right to freedom of expression and the press, guaranteed under sections 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended 2011).

And to further hold that the act of the respondents to the suit violate ” articles 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 1983 as well as Articles 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights”.

The association also prayed the court for  declarative order  that the threat by the government to prosecute and jail any Nigerian found using the microblogging site within Nigeria’s cyberspace “amounted to a breach of the applicant’s right to a fair hearing and right not to be tried and convicted for an offence not prescribed in written law.”

It also prayed for an order “setting aside the purported directives/fiat/order” issued by the respondents banning the use of the microblogging and social media website in the Nigerian cyberspace.

NBA had in the wake of the widely condemned ban on Twitter in the country  threatened to sue the government over the matter.

Making real its threat, the NBA, said in a statement by its publicity secretary, Raps Nduka, on Tuesday, that it had filed the suit on June 18, about two weeks after the government announced the Twitter ban on June 4.

 Meanwhile the Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed October 4 to hear the suit challenging the legality of the Federal Government’s directives and the order banning the use of Twitter in the country.

The suit filed by the Incorporated Trustees of the NBA  and marked  FHC/L/CS/613/202  brings to four the number of suits filed by individuals and corporate bodies challenging federal government’s ban and it’s threat to prosecute Nigerians who defy its directive banning the use of micro blogging and social media website, Twitter.

The other suits was filed by Chairman of the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA/SPIDEL) Monday Ubani whjo told journalists he has lodged a similar suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Also  the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had filed similar suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja; and 176 other Nigerians and SERAP at the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

Last Friday, the Federal Government told a the Federal High Court in Lagos that it had not stopped Nigerians from using Twitter.

The government and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami stated this in a counter-affidavit deposed to in response to an originating motion filed by human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, challenging the suspension.

In the affidavit deposed to by Mr Ilop Lawrence on behalf of the Federal Government, Malami said the suspension of Twitter was not an abuse of human rights because Nigerians were still using social media platform.

It read in part, “The applicant (Effiong) and the class he seeks to represent can still operate those Twitter accounts from anywhere in the world and even from Nigeria. Nigerians are still tweeting, even at this moment as the ban on Twitter is not aimed at intimidating Nigerians or an infringement on the rights of Nigerians to express their opinion.

“The respondents (Federal Government and AGF) have never stopped the applicant (Effiong) and the class of persons he seeks to represent from voicing their opinions to access government information and offer criticism where necessary.”

Nigeria suspended Twitter after the social media platform pulled down a tweet by President Buhari on the ground that it violated its rules.