West Africa: ECOWAS Court Stops Govt From Prosecuting Nigerians Using Twitter

(file photo).
22 June 2021

The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja has restrained the federal government from imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to arrest or prosecute any Nigerian and media houses using Twitter, pending the hearing and determination of a suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

The court gave the order after hearing arguments from the solicitor to SERAP, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), and lawyer to the federal government, Maimuna Shiru, following a suit filed on June 8 against the government by SERAP and 176 concerned Nigerians.

The court said: "The court has listened very well to the objection by Nigeria. The court has this to say. Any interference with Twitter is viewed as inference with human rights, and that will violate human rights. Therefore, this court has jurisdiction to hear the case. The court also hereby orders that the application be heard expeditiously. The Nigerian government must take immediate steps to implement the order."

Reacting to the ruling, Falana said the intervention of the ECOWAS Court is a timely relief for millions of Nigerians using Twitter who have been threatened with prosecution under the provision of the Penal Code relating to sedition.

He said: "Contrary to the assurance credited to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), that violators of Twitter would not be prosecuted, the federal government filed processes in the ECOWAS Court threatening to prosecute Nigerians using Twitter for violating the suspension under the provisions of the Penal Code relating to sedition.

"It is extremely embarrassing that the federal government could threaten to jail Nigerians for sedition, which was annulled by the Court of Appeal in 1983, in the case of Arthur Nwankwo vs The State."

The substantive suit has been adjourned to July 6, 2021 for hearing.

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