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Twitter Ban: Court dismisses SERAP’s suit against FG, Fines SERAP N100,000

An Abuja division of the federal high court has dismissed a suit by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) against the federal government on its directives to broadcast outlets in Nigeria to suspend the usage of Twitter after it was banned for violating Nigerian laws.

The presiding judge, Justice Obiora Egwuatu dismissed the suit for lacking in merit. He awarded a N100, 000 cost against SERAP.

The judge held that when national security is threatened, the issue of fundamental rights takes second stage. He said Twitter was not a registered company in the country as required by the law.

Backstory

In June, SERAP filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit against the NBC and two others following an order by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) which directed broadcast outlets in Nigeria to suspend the usage of Twitter after it was banned for violating Nigerian laws.

In a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/496/21, filed by SERAP against the NBC, the Director-General of NBC and the Minister of Information and Culture, sought an order setting aside the directive by NBC among other reliefs.

SERAP argued that the directive amounted to a fundamental breach of the principle of legality, the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom, and is incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations.

They sought among others, “An order of perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Government and its regulator from “censoring, regulating, licensing and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.”

Counsel to the defendants argued that the directive did not affect SERAP in any way. They urged the court to dismiss the suit. They averred that the action was taken in the interest of the country’s national security, economy and unity.

Nelson Orji, a lawyer to the minister of information, told the court that Twitter is not a registered company in Nigeria as required by law. He said the federal government would not take actions to undermine the law as they operate within the ambit of the law.

Mr Orji said the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) state that foreign businesses wishing to carry on business in Nigeria are required to be registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission as a Nigerian company.

He told the court that Twitter as a company operating in Nigeria had not been paying taxes as required by the law and that the government suspended it pending its willingness to operate within the Nigerian laws.

What the judge ruled

Justice Egwuatu held that the fundamental rights of SERAP have not been breached because the freedom of expression provided for under Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is not absolute.

The judge said that the section is limited under Section 45(1) which deals with the issues of defence, public safety, public health and public morality.

The judge held that the media houses that were banned did not make a complaint therefore SERAP cannot “cry more than the bereaved.”

Justice Egwuatu dismissed the suit and awarded a N100, 000 cost in favour of the defendants.

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