Court fixes 20 January 2022 for judgment in suit against Nigeria over suspension of Twitter

The ECOWAS Court has fixed 20th January 2022 for judgment in four consolidated suits filed by two Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) and two individuals challenging the decision of the government of Nigeria to suspend access to Twitter in Nigeria.

The Court adjourned for judgment after hearing the arguments of all the parties in the suit and the adoption of their submissions on 29th September 2021.

The four parties alleged that the suspension of the use of the social media platform ‘Twitter’ constituted the violation of their fundamental rights including their rights to freedom of expression and press freedom.

The consolidated case comprise suits filed by the Registered Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP); Media Rights Agenda and eight others; Chief Malcolm Omirhobo; and Patrick Eholor tagged suits nos ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21, ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21, ECW/CCJ/APP/24/21, and ECW/CCJ/APP/26/21 respectively.

During the hearing of 29th September 2021, some groups who filed applications seeking to intervene as amici curiae also offered insights regarding a State’s interference with the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, access to information, political participation and socio-economic rights in the internet age.

Mr Deji Ajare, Mr Nanpon Wuyep and Mrs Miriam Orika representing two amici curiae comprising three groups – Access Now, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Open Net Association on one hand, and Amnesty International on the other, made joint oral submissions intended to provide useful findings which may assist the Court in examining/deciding on the matter.

Another group – the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights represented by Mr Ikechukwu Uzoma also made submission following its application to intervene in the matter as amicus curiae.

The Court had in an earlier hearing on 9 July 2021 ordered the consolidation of the four separate suits before the Court challenging the decision of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to suspend the use of Twitter in Nigeria following an application by the Respondent, the Federal Republic of Nigeria for their consolidation as they are on the same subject matter.

On 22 June 2021, the Court ruled on an application for interim measures/orders filed by one of the Applicants – the Registered Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and ordered the Nigerian government and its agents to “refrain from imposing sanction on any media house or harassing, intimidating, arresting and prosecuting the Applicants, concerned Nigerians for the use of Twitter and other social media platforms,” pending the determination of the substantive suit.

The three member panel of Judges in the suit include Justices Gberi-Be- Ouattara (presiding), Keikura  Bangura (judge rapporteur) and Januaria Costa.