The ECOWAS Court sitting in Abuja has given an order restraining the Nigerian government from imposing sanctions or harassing, intimidating, arresting, or prosecuting Twitter or its users in the country.
This injunction also prevents the government from carrying out those actions against other social media platforms, media houses, radio, and television broadcast stations. This order stands pending the determination of the case.
The Court gave the order in the suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians against the federal government over the suspension of Twitter in the country.
After hearing arguments for and against the matter, the Court decided that it was cloaked with jurisdiction. As a suit bordering on the infringement of human rights, the Court determined that it had the right to hear the case.
The microblogging site was suspended after it deleted a tweet by the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, which mentioned the Nigerian-Biafran war.
Subsequently, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami ordered the prosecution of anyone found using the platform.
This was met with varying levels of criticism which eventually led to the suit filed by SERAP. Currently, SERAP has also filed a claim against the government in the Federal High Court on the same matter.
SERAP’s suit is one in the string of cases filed or threatened to be filed against the Nigerian government on this issue.
Although this appears to be good news, the Nigerian government is not known to obey orders or judgments given by the ECOWAS Court. A good example is another case, SERAP v. Federal Republic of Nigeria & Anor, filed by the organisation in the sub-regional court. Judgment was given in 2010 but has not been implemented to date.
Other suits include Sambo Dasuki v. Federal Republic of Nigeria and SERAP v Federal Republic of Nigeria and Universal Basic Education Commission
While recent history is not kind to all the parties involved, the suit has not been heard in its entirety yet.
Interestingly, the Nigerian government today approved a team of ministers to manage the negotiation process with Twitter. Perhaps, events might unfold differently in the coming days.