Nigeria rights group sues government over failure to publish agreement with Twitter

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a Nigerian rights group, has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammed Buhari at the Federal High Court (Lagos) over the government’s failure to publish a copy of the agreement recently signed between the federal government and social media giant Twitter. The rights group joined Alhaji Lai Muhammed, the country’s minister of information and culture, as a respondent in the lawsuit.

On June 4, 2021, the federal government indefinitely suspended Twitter following the removal of President Muhammed Buhari’s tweet for violating rules of service. The tweet referred to the 1967 Nigerian Civil War and suggested that it might be appropriate to inflict violence upon regional secessionist groups. Subsequently, SERAP filed a lawsuit against the ban, alleging that it violated the citizens’ human rights. The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States is scheduled to decide this week whether to go ahead and make a ruling on this issue.

Last month, the Nigerian government lifted the ban after signing an agreement with Twitter. As per the agreement, Twitter agreed to open a local office and work with the federal government for developing a code of conduct. The federal government stated that Twitter agreed to “act with a respectful acknowledgement of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history on which such legislation has been built.”

In the lawsuit filed against the president and the minister of information and culture, the rights group argued that:

It is in the interest of justice to grant this application. Publishing the agreement would enable Nigerians to scrutinise it, seek legal remedies as appropriate, and ensure that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter are not used as pretexts to suppress legitimate discourse . . . Publishing the agreement with Twitter would promote transparency, accountability, and help to mitigate threats to Nigerians’ rights online, as well as any interference with online privacy and freedom of expression.