The ECOWAS Court of Justice, headquartered in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, has restrained the Federal Government of Nigeria and its agents from imposing sanctions on twitter and other social media service provders and users in the country.

In a landmark judgment, the court “restrained the government of President Muhammadu Buhari 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 ruling arose from the suit filed against the government by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians in the wake of threats by the government to sanction those flouting its ban on twitter.

Mr Buhari had ordered the suspension of twitter after the latter sanctioned the President for comments said to have violated its rules.

The President’s outburst on twitter against Nigerians who were believed to be genuinely airing their grievances against the government, was generally viewed as unpresidential and offensive in a democratic setting.

Femi Falana was counsel to SERAP, while Maimuna Shiru represented the Federal Government.

The Ecowas Court however, held that “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 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,” the court concluded.

“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, Femi Falana said the intervention of the ECOWAS Court was a timely relief for millions of Nigerians using Twitter who had been threatened with prosecution under the provision of the Penal Code relating to sedition.

“Contrary to the assurance credited to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN that violators of the 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,” said Mr Falana.

“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.”

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