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SERAP sues Buhari, Lai over ‘failure to publish copy of agreement with Twitter’

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over “the failure to publish copy of the agreement the Federal Government recently signed with Twitter, Inc, and the failure to publish the details of the terms and conditions of any such agreement.”

Joined in the suit as Respondent is Alhaji Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture.

The Federal Government had in January lifted the suspension of Twitter operation in Nigeria, stating that, “Twitter has agreed to act with a respectful acknowledgement of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history.”

But in the suit number FHC/L/CS/238/2022 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP is asking the court to “direct and compel President Buhari and Alhaji Lai Mohammed to release and widely publish copy of the agreement with Twitter, and the terms and conditions of any such agreement.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “It is in the interest of justice to grant this application. Publishing the agreement would enable Nigerians to scrutinise it, seek legal remedies as appropriate, and ensure that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter are not used as pretexts to suppress legitimate discourse.”

SERAP is also arguing that, “Publishing the agreement with Twitter would promote transparency, accountability, and help to mitigate threats to Nigerians’ rights online, as well as any interference with online privacy and freedom of expression.”

According to SERAP, “Any agreement with social media companies must meet the constitutional requirements of legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy. Secretly agreed terms and conditions will fail these fundamental requirements.”

SERAP is also seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Buhari and Alhaji Lai Mohammed to clarify the manner and scope in which the agreement with Twitter will be enforced, and whe

ther the agreement incorporates respect for constitutional and international human rights.”

SERAP is further arguing that, “The government has a duty to demonstrate that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter would not threaten or violate the enjoyment of Nigerians’ human rights online, and that the conditions are in pursuit of a legitimate goal in a democratic society.”

According to SERAP, “Alhaji Lai Mohammed responded to our freedom of information request but his response is completely unsatisfactory, as he merely stated that the ‘details are in the public space,’ without sending a copy of the agreement signed with Twitter as requested.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “Nigerians are entitled to their human rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, privacy, peaceful assembly and association, as well as public participation both offline and online.”

“The operation and enforcement of the agreement may be based on broadly worded restrictive laws, which may be used as pretexts to suppress legitimate discourse, interfere with online privacy, and deter the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression.

“The statement by the Federal Government announcing the lifting of the suspension of Twitter after seven months used overly broad terms and phrases like ‘prohibited publication’, ‘Nigerian laws’, ‘national culture and history’. These open-ended terms and phrases may be used to suppress legitimate exercise of human rights online.”

“Any agreement with social media companies must not be used as a ploy to tighten governmental control over access to the internet, monitor internet activity, or to increase online censorship and the capacity of the government to restrict legitimate online content, contrary to standards on freedom of expression and privacy.”

“Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee the right to hold opinions without interference, and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and through any medium.”

“The Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties impose duties on the government to ensure enabling environments for freedom of expression, privacy rights and other human rights, and to protect their exercise.”

“While human rights law requires States to prohibit ‘advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’, States must still satisfy the cumulative conditions of legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy in any agreement with social media companies.”

“The government has a legal obligation to promote universal Internet access, media diversity and independence, as well as ensure that any agreements with Twitter and other social media companies are not used to impermissibly restrict these fundamental human rights.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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