So today the Federal Government released a statement indefinitely suspending twitter operations in Nigeria.
The reason behind this according to them is that there is a “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”
As plausible as this may seem, the question remains – can the FG Ban or suspend the use of twitter in Nigeria. I say this because it is unequivocally enshrined in our Constitution that freedom of expression is a fundamental right and this right is protected by section 39 (1) of our Constitution.
Nigeria is also a party to several international conventionsthat have established the importance of respecting the peoples right to freedom of expression.
The rights of Nigerian citizens to use the platform provided by twitter can be referred to as digital right that comes within the purview of the freedom of expression protected by the Constitution.
It is thus correct to say thatDigital rights are human rights which cannot be arbitrarily breached or curtailed arbitrarily.
The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights unequivocally states that limiting, curtailing or outrightlydisconnecting people from the internet violates their rights. Digital rights under which the use of social media such as twitterfalls, are considered to be fundamental human rights. As a matter of fact, theUnited Nations Human Rights Council in its 2016 resolution resolved that the “same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.” Nigeria as a member of the United Nations and a member of the Human Right Council is a signatory to that resolution and is therefore bound by it.
Additionally, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Nigeria is a member and signatory to,provides in paragraph 2 of its Articles that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference”.It further provides that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or print, in the form of art, or through any other media of choice”
It is important to point out however that these rights are subject tocertain restrictions, but these restrictions cannot be arbitrarily or unnecessarily activated;the permissible restrictions include; the protection of national security or maintenance of public order.
I will want to believe that the Federal Government is relying on the above leeway to suspend twitter indefinitely; however I find the decision hasty and impulsive considering the fact that Twitter has a system in place where it removes illegal content upon receipt from third parties, including Governments, to remove illegal content in accordance with the laws of the countries where the people use the service. So if the Federal Government has justifiable proof of a breach of our laws by some twitter users, the simple approach should be to request twitter’s censorship and not a general indefinite ban of the platform. Because how do you justify an attempt todisenfranchiseof over 40M Nigerians of their right to freely express themselves without a firm legal basis for such limitations.
Indeed fake news and incitement are real threats that MUST be curtailed but banning twitter is similar to throwing away the baby with the bath water. The Federal Government must be wary not to impede people rights and creativity by limiting online freedom. Citizens must be allowed to communicate freely online and offline albeit in accordance with legal provisions.
OMORUYI OSAGIE EDOIGIAWERIE ESQ ACIArb(UK)
OmoruyiEdoigiawerie is a Legal Practitioner with over a decade experience. Over the years, he has garnered consummate experience in Corporate Legal Practice and Statutory Compliance Matters.
His core expertise lies primarily in Corporate Commercial Practice, Startup Law, Immigration and Employment law, Immigration Law, Alternative Dispute Resolution and Entrepreneurship. Additionally he regularly provides advisory and capacity building support to a spectrum of clients particularly start-ups whom he enjoys mentoring. To date he has helped build and grow over 1000 startups most of who remain gainfully in business.
Omoruyiholds Graduate and postgraduate degrees in Law and is an Alumnus of the University of Lagos, Harvardx program on Leadership, he is also a Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK, Mediation specialist and management Consultant, he is also a member of the Nigerian Bar Association and several professional bodies and is an ardent contributor to topical national and Legal issues.
He can be reached on twitter @UyiDlaw, Instagram @Uyilaw and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
OmoruyiEdoigiawerie Esq ACIArb