On June 04, 2021, the Federal Government issued a notification through the office of the Minister for information, Lai Mohammed, that “The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria,” He further directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.
Burning Legal issues
1. Under which law did FG suspend Twitter.
The said proclamation of the Minister for Information cannot stand under the Law, it is at best a mere tweet without legal force or backing.
Which Law is being exercised by the Federal Goverment?
It is a legal aberration and goes contrary to legal standard and cannot stand the test of judicial scrutiny. Under which law did the honourable minister claim that the Federal Government purportedly ban Twitter, none was stated. Is it under the Terrorism law or what? No gazette or Executive Order, except the words of the Minister for information and Culture. Tweets and declarations are not Legal instruments and does not exercise the powers of any Law.
2. Section 148 (1)(b) NCC Act: Is Twitter now a Public Emergency in Nigeria?
The Nigeria Communications Act is the principal legislation that governs telecommunications services (including internet services), while the National Broadcasting Commission Act governs broadcasting.
Section 148 1(b) of NCC Act provides for an emergency provision, that:
(1) On the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of public safety, the Commission may—
(b) withdraw either totally or partially the use of any service or network facilitie from any licensee, person or the general public
The above emergency provision can only be wielded in circumstances public emergency or public safety only by the Nigeria Communication Commission itself.
Banning Twitter under the broad cover of public emergency and public safety is legally dubious. We understand that the ban stems from the fact that somebody’s fragile ego was bruised. We are presently in the age of Data and Smartphones. The 1999 Constitution stipulates human rights of citizens in Nigeria and provides for right to privacy and right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of association and assembly, and thought conscience and religion.
Yes, as expressed in DOKUBO -ASARI V. F.R.N. SC.208/ 2006, these rights are not supreme yet a Government body cannot derogate from these rights on its whims, where ever it does, such can be challenged in Court. We are a Nation of Laws and legal principles.
3. Doctrine of public forum and right of expression
A fundamental principle of Right to Freedom of expression is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more.
In Nigeria, on various occasions the Courts has protect the right speak in this context. A basic rule, for example, is that a street or park is a quintessential forum for the exercise of right tonfreedom.of expression. Even in the modern era, social media such as Twitter are places are essential venues for public gatherings to celebrate some views, to protest others, or simply to learn and inquire.
In this digital age, the most important place for the exchange of ideas today is “the vast democratic forums of the Internet and social media in particular. The internet is the modern public square, of the same.consequence with traditional public forums such as streets, town hall meetings or parks where speech has historically been granted the highest protection.
Furthermore, social media apps such as Twitter has been the most important places for the exchange of views, banning outrightly or suspending it without an exact law empower such is tantamount to infringing on the Constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Nigeria is a signatory to important international treaties that expressly provides that Social media is a right such African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, International UN resolutions and instruments on cyber security. Any unilateral ban will violate rights of citizens both economic and social rights.
In conclusion, the decision of the federal Government as contained in the Minister of information’s statement on the banning of Twitter amounts to gross violation of human rights. Such declaration itself is not law until it is exercised under an existing provision of our laws, yet such cannot stand as it infringed on Constitutional rights of the citizens.
Opatola Victor, Esq. email@example.com 09041815408