The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Court of Justice on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, ordered the Nigerian government “to refrain from imposing a penalty on any media house or intimidating, harassing, apprehending and prosecuting” Nigerians for the use of the microblogging and social media platform, Twitter pending its judgment of a substantive suit filed by Non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) challenging the ban of the social media platform by the Nigerian Government.
The order comes as a result of the Government’s suspension of Twitter after the microblogging and social media platform had removed a post from President Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists, which Twitter said violated its rules. Nigeria’s Attorney-General Abubakar Malami went further, to direct the immediate prosecution of offenders of the Nigerian Government ban on Twitter operations in the country.
However, the trustees of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a local rights group, as well as 176 other Nigerians, applied to the court for interim measures against the ban, seeking “An order of interim injunction restraining the Nigerian Government from implementing its suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and subjecting anyone including media houses, broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria, to harassment, intimidation, arrest and criminal prosecution, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”
The ECOWAS Court, exercising its power under Article 79 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court, granted the judgement, holding that it:
Recognizes that access to Twitter provides a platform for the exercise of freedom of expression and any interference with the access will be viewed as an interference with the right to freedom of expression. By extension, such interference will amount to a violation of a fundamental human right that falls within the competence of this Court pursuant to Article 9 (4) of the Supplementary Protocol (A/SP.1/01/05) Amending Protocol (A/P1/7/91) relating to the Community Court of Justice.
While the court’s decision deters the Nigerian government from prosecuting and targeting individuals for their use of microblogging and social media platform, Twitter, it refused to order the Nigerian government to lift the suspension on the use of Twitter, pending its determination of the substantive suit.
The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is currently being challenged by the Non-Governmental Organization Media Rights Agenda and eight journalists who are claiming that the suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian Government has affected the execution of their professional duties and general access to vital news/information, and that the suspension was an arbitrary act without explanation under law as it interfered with their right to seek, receive and impart information which is protected under several Human rights instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the ECOWAS Revised Treaty.