The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja has restrained the Federal Government from prosecuting Twitter users. The federal government has earlier placed a ban on the use of Twitter, but many Nigerians circumvented the ban through the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Consequently, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, threatened to prosecute those violating the ban. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) also ordered all radio and television stations to deactivate their Twitter accounts.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians had challenged the action of the government at the ECOWAS Court.
Ruling on Tuesday, the court restrained the government and its agents from “unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter and/or any other social media service provider(s), media houses, radio and television broadcast stations, the Plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
“The unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalization of Nigerians and other people using Twitter have escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of Nigerians and other people to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.”
The court gave the order after hearing arguments from Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana SAN, and lawyer to the government, Maimuna Shiru.
“The court has listened very well to the objection by Nigeria. The court has this to say. Any interference with Twitter is viewed as an 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.”