Our Voices

Victory for Online Expression in Nigeria

In a victory for freedom of expression, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice delivered a pivotal decision in the cases filed by the Social Economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP) & other organizations including Media Rights Agenda and Media Defence challenging the Nigerian government’s Twitter ban. The suit questioned the legality of the government’s action which restricted access to Twitter for over 3 million subscribers in Nigeria. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights participated in the case as amicus curiae.

The Court found the suspension of access to Twitter was unlawful and inconsistent with the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression, access to information and the media protected under the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. In addition, Nigeria was ordered to “take necessary steps to align its policies and other measures to give effect to the rights and freedoms” protected by the law.

“This decision reiterates existing jurisprudence on the centrality of access to the internet and social media platforms to freedom of expression, association and assembly among others” said Ikechukwu Uzoma, staff attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The internet is an enabler of civic participation and governments must fulfill their obligation to promote and protect its use.”

Acknowledging the worrying trend of internet shutdowns across the world, the court ordered the government of Nigeria to “guarantee the non-repetition of the unlawful ban on Twitter and undertake legislative and other measures on the use of Twitter to enable the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression” The Nigerian Twitter ban was one of 182 state-ordered internet shutdowns recorded globally in 2021.

“The ECOWAS Court judgment is a victory for civic space and democracy in Nigeria. I hope this victory resonates with good governance in Nigeria and freedom of expression in Africa. Government cannot continue to stifle freedom of expression and expect robust civic participation. State parties must do better to protect and promote human rights” said Kolawole Oluwadare, Deputy Director, SERAP.

We call on Nigeria to implement the judgment of the ECOWAS Court and desist from actions that unlawfully restrict the rights of the people in Nigeria.