A lawyer, Festus Ogwuche, on Monday wrote to the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, over a subsisting judgment of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, that forbids the Nigerian government from infringing on rights to free press.

Mr Ogwuche wrote Mr Malami on Monday in the wake of the federal government’s indefinite suspension of the operations of Twitter, a popular microblogging site, in Nigeria.

He reminded Mr Malami in his letter submitted to Mr Malami’s office on Monday that the ban on Twitter was in defiance of a 2018 judgment of the ECOWAS Court guaranteeing free press.

In an effort to enforce the ban, which has been widely condemned locally and internationally as an attack on free press and freedom of expression, Mr Malami had on Saturday, ordered the prosecution of those who continued to use Twitter in defiance of its suspension by government.

On Monday, the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) ordered televisions and radio stations to stop using Twitter.

But citing the ECOWAS Court judgment in his letter, Mr Ogwuche said the suspension of Twitter “is not a veiled attempt, but rather a direct unveiled advancement towards limiting the frontiers for the exercise of those constitutionally sacred freedoms by constricting and actually scrapping a vital platform and space for such expression.”

‘Official policy must not impede free press’

According to Mr Ogwuche, the ECOWAS Court of Justice had in December 2018, gave an “order of perpetual injunction,” which, “forbids the Federal Republic of Nigeria from doing anything either by way of official policy, instruction and/or investigation that will in anyway impede on the existence and operations of a free press in a democratic society.”

The lawyer who was the plaintiff in the ECOWAS Court case against the Federal Republic of Nigeria, noted that the order of injunction issued in the judgment applies to all subsequent violations of those enshrined rights including potential victims who may not necessarily be named in the law suit.

In the letter which he copied the Minister of Information and Culture as well as the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), he said these rights are not only entrenched and guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution, but also under the African Charter on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration Of Human and Peoples Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Elections.

Referencing the case of Cameroon versus Nigeria in 1998, Mr Ogwuche said the Nigeria government cannot be seen to act in defiance of its international obligations which equally pertains to the globally held notions of state responsibility as an integral part of the global
community.

‘Don’t start the trend of disobeying supranational courts’

He advised Nigerian government not to start the trend of disobeying the decisions of “supranational courts”.

“Nigeria is not known for disobedience of decisions of supranational courts and the action suspending Twitter operations should not set the stage for that trend.

“The suspension is a closure of a vital platform and space for the reception and impartation of ideas and information by citizens of the country, and therefore a violation of their rights.

“Twitter being a pedestal for the realization of those basic guarantees, falls within the ambit and construction of a press as envisaged in the judgment.

“The Order suspending twitter operations in the country, and the subsequent action(s) furtherance to the said action are unlawful and a negation of the rule and due process of the law, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1989 and the principles of state responsibility,” the letter read in part.

Backstory

The information minister had on Friday announced the government’s ban on Twitter two days after the social media giant took down a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari which it considered violated it’s rules and seen by many Nigerians’ as a threat of violence against the Igbo people in the South-east of Nigeria.

A presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said on Saturday that the ban was not just because Twitter deleted Mr Buhari’s tweet but also to hold the micro blogging site accountable for being used to spread fake news and incite hate and violence.

Although many Nigerians have have been defying the ban through the use of alternative platforms to access Twitter, the suspension of the site in Nigeria has attracted condemnation from different parts of the world. The most notable of the criticisms came in a joint statement issued by the European Union (EU) Delegation to Nigeria and the diplomatic missions of four major Western powers – the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Republic of Ireland.

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