The seven-month ban imposed on Twitter by the Nigerian government was unlawful, according to a ruling by the ECOWAS court, the judicial organ of the Economic Community of West African States, which has the responsibility of resolving disputes related to the interpretation of the community’s treaty, protocols and conventions.
This decision, widely reported in the Nigerian media, follows a suit by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 'concerned Nigerians'. SERAP aims to use human rights law to encourage government and others to address developmental and human rights challenges such as corruption, poverty, inequality and discrimination.
The ECOWAS Court has, in its ruling, “declared unlawful the suspension of Twitter by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and ordered the administration never to repeat it again”.
The social media giant was blocked in Nigeria on 4 June 2021 after the platform removed a post by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari issuing a threat of punishment to regional secessionists.
The ECOWAS court held that the act of suspending the operation of Twitter is unlawful and inconsistent with the provisions of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to both of which Nigeria is a party.
It said: “The Buhari administration in suspending the operations of Twitter violates the rights of SERAP and 176 concerned Nigerians to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and the media, as well as the right to fair hearing.”
The Court also ordered the Buhari administration to take steps to align its policies and other measures to give effect to these rights and freedoms, and to guarantee a non-repetition of the unlawful ban of Twitter. The administration must also bear the costs of the proceedings.
For Twitter, under fire in a number of countries, this can be counted a modest triumph. Whether it will cause a rethink from governments in places like Russia and India, however, is another question.