SERAP challenges Buhari to deliver Twitter deal

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Socio-Economic Rights and Responsibility Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to provide a copy of the agreement the federal government had with social media company Twitter.

On Wednesday January 12, the FG announced that it had reached an agreement with the micro-blogging site to lift the ban it imposed on its use in Nigeria on June 4, 2021.

Now, the organization is asking the president to use his good offices and leadership position to order the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, to provide him with a copy of the recently signed agreement. with Twitter, and to publish the details widely. of such an agreement.

SERAP also urged him to “order Alhaji Lai Mohammed to clarify the manner and scope of the application of the agreement with Twitter, including whether the agreement incorporates respect for human rights, in accordance with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999”. [as amended] and international obligations.

In a letter dated January 15, 2022 and signed by Deputy Director of SERAP, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Publication of the agreement would allow Nigerians to review it, pursue legal remedies where appropriate and to ensure that the terms of Twitter’s lifting of the suspension are not used as pretexts to suppress legitimate speech”.

SERAP said: “Publication of the agreement with Twitter would also promote transparency, accountability and help mitigate threats to the rights of Nigerians online, as well as any intrusion into privacy online in a manner that deters the exercise freedom of opinion and expression.”

According to SERAP, “Nigerians are entitled to their constitutionally and internationally recognized human rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, privacy, peaceful assembly and association, as well as offline and online public participation.

“Any agreements with social media companies must meet constitutional and international requirements, including legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy.

“This means that any conditions for lifting Twitter’s suspension must meet the requirements of due process and limit government discretion. Secretly agreed terms will not meet these basic requirements.

“The government has a duty to demonstrate that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter would not threaten or violate the enjoyment of human rights by Nigerians online and that the conditions pursue a legitimate aim in a democratic society.

“SERAP is concerned that the operation and enforcement of the agreement will be based on broadly worded restrictive laws, which could be used as pretexts to suppress legitimate speech, interfere with online privacy and deter exercise of freedom of opinion and expression,” he added. also indicated.

He added: “For example, the government statement announcing the lifting of Twitter’s suspension used overly vague terms and phrases like ‘banned posting’, ‘Nigerian laws’, ‘national culture and history’. These open terms and expressions can be used to suppress the legitimate exercise of human rights online.

“Any agreements with social media companies should not be used as a ploy to tighten government control over internet access, monitor internet activity, or increase online censorship and the government’s ability to restrict the legitimate content online, contrary to standards on freedom of expression and privacy.

“SERAP notes the interdependence of human rights, such as the importance of privacy as a gateway to freedom of expression.

“Article 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to seek, receive and communicate. information and ideas of all kinds, without borders and by any means.

“The Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties impose obligations on your government to ensure enabling environments for freedom of expression, right to privacy and other human rights, and to protect their exercise.

SERAP noted that “While human rights law requires states to prohibit ‘advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”, States must always satisfy the cumulative conditions of legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy in any agreement with social media companies.

“Your government has a legal obligation to promote universal internet access, media diversity and independence, as well as to ensure that any agreements with Twitter and other social media companies are not used to impermissibly restrict these fundamental human rights.

“By reading together the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria, the Freedom of Information Act 2011 and the human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party, your government is required to widely publish the agreement and details of the terms under which Twitter’s suspension was lifted.

“It is stated in the federal government statement that Twitter has entered into an agreement with the government “to handle prohibited posting in accordance with Nigerian laws”. We would appreciate clarification on the definition of “prohibited information” and how the specific Nigerian laws applicable under the agreement.

“It is also stated in the federal government statement that Twitter has agreed “to act with respectful acknowledgment of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history upon which such legislation has been built.” We would be grateful to you. grateful for clarification of the specific and applicable Nigerian laws, national culture and history on which the operation and application of the agreement will be based.

“We would appreciate it if you could provide us with the requested information and details within 7 days of receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP will take all appropriate legal action in the public interest to compel your government to comply with our request.

“According to our information, approval has been given to lift the suspension of the operation of Twitter in Nigeria effective 12:00 p.m. on 13th January 2022 following the memorandum sent to you by the Minister of Communications and ‘Digital Economy, Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim.’ The decision to lift the suspension was reportedly based on the recommendations of the Technical Committee on Nigeria-Twitter Engagement.

“SERAP notes that Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on June 5, 2021, announced the suspension of the operation of Twitter by the federal government, following which a seven-man presidential committee was established to engage Twitter Inc. The committee presidential, in turn, created a 20-member technical committee, which would have worked directly with the Twitter team.

Copy of the letter was sent to Mr. Lai Mohammed and Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.

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