The ECOWAS Court has denied the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s request to dismiss a combined claim brought before the court challenging the Nigerian government’s decision to ban the Twitter platform in the country, and has set May 10, 2022, as the date for judgment in the case.
Justice Gberi-Be Ouattara, the suit’s presiding court, ruled that the government’s plea for dismissal of the case was without merit and was denied.
The Court noted that the Nigerian government did not produce documentation of the agreement struck between the government and the management of Twitter during the hearing on February 16, 2022.
The Court further noted that when the matter was adjourned for judgment, the lawyers for the Nigerian government filed a petition with the Court, requesting that it dismiss the consolidated complaint on many grounds.
As a result, Justice Ouattara requested that the lawyers brief the court on the new application’s objective, which was filed after the case had been adjourned for decision.
The application was filed in accordance with Article 88 (2) of the ‘Rules of the Court,’ according to Abdullahi Abubakar and Abubakar Nuhu, both assistant state counsels representing the Nigerian government. They asked the court to rule on their application for the dismissal of the suit, which they said was pointless and an academic exercise since the ban had been lifted.
Both counsels told the court that their application was based on nine grounds, the most important of which is that the suit’s subject matter has lost its purpose and is no longer in existence, and that the platform has been consistently used for activities that threaten Nigeria’s existence and national security.
Other grounds for the case were that Twitter approached Nigeria to form an agreement committing to follow the law, which resulted in the lifting of the Twitter ban, and that the Court’s decision would be an academic exercise.
Furthermore, they argued that a Court judgement would be of no use to the Applicants because the subject matter had lost its function, and the ‘Rules of the Court’ allow the Court to strike out matters that are no longer relevant.
In support of their allegations, they submitted a 14-paragraph affidavit and a written address dated January 26, 2022. They went on to say that because the unified claim was about the’suspension of Twitter in Nigeria,’ any judgement by the Court would be merely academic once the ban was lifted.
The four suing parties (Applicants), who are represented by lawyers, are the Registered Trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP); Media Rights Agenda and eight others; Chief Malcolm Omirhobo; and Patrick Eholor, whose suits are numbered ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21, ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21, ECW/CCJ/APP/24/21, and ECW/CCJ/APP/26/21, respectively
They also told the Court that the lifting of the Twitter suspension was one of several reliefs they were seeking from the Court, and that the government’s request should be denied and judgment issued on their various reliefs.
In a previous ruling, the Court 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 outcome of the substantive suit challenging the ban on the use of Twitter, which was filed by SERAP, one of the suing NGOs.
In their initial submissions, the applicants said that the Nigerian government’s decision to ban access to the Twitter platform in Nigeria was a violation of their fundamental rights, particularly their rights to freedom of expression and press freedom.
They further requested that the suspension be declared an ongoing infringement of their fundamental rights by the Court.
Following a motion submitted on July 5, 2021 by Mr Abdullahi Abubakar, the counsel for the Nigerian government, indicating that the subject matter of the four cases was the same, the Court ordered the actions to be consolidated.
The applicants did not raise any objections to the government’s consolidation request.