Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) brushed aside a counterattack by Aso Rock last week and dragged President Buhari once again to the court.
This time, the rights group seeks an “an order of perpetual injunction to restrain President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami from unlawfully shutting down telecommunication networks in any part of the country.”
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1323/2021 filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja SERAP is asking the court to “determine whether the shutdown of telecommunication networks in any part of Nigeria by the Buhari administration is unlawful, and a violation of the rights of access to correspondence, freedom of expression, information, and the press.”
SERAP is also asking the court to “determine whether the shutdown of telecommunication networks in any part of the country is inconsistent with the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity, and the rights of access to correspondence, freedom of expression, information, and the press.”
The suit, which has been assigned to Honorable Justice Ahmed Mohammed at Court 4, is fixed for hearing on 11th January, 2022.
Joined in the suit as Defendant is the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
SERAP is arguing that, “Large-scale shutdowns of communication networks are a form of collective punishment. Shutdowns exert significant chilling effects, with direct implications on participatory democracy, whose existence depends upon an active and informed citizenry capable of engaging with a range of ideas.”
According to SERAP, “The Buhari administration has constitutional and international legal obligations to enable access to the Internet for all, as access to the Internet is inextricably linked to the exercise of freedom of expression and information.”
SERAP is also arguing that, “Access to information, the ability to exercise the right to freedom of expression and the participation that internet and telecommunication networks provide to all sectors of society is essential for a truly democratic society.”
SERAP said: “The rights to freedom of expression and information may be restricted only in specific circumstances. Restrictions on these rights must be provided by law, proportionate, and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others or for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health and morals.”
SERAP is also arguing that, “While the authorities have a legal responsibility to protect, ensure and secure the rights to life and property, any such responsibility ought to be discharged in conformity with constitutional and international human rights standards.”
“The suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara and Katsina states is particularly egregious, and suggests a disturbing trend, especially given the escalating repression and restriction of civic space in Nigeria. Shutdowns should never become an entrenched practice in the country.”
The suit was filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Kehinde Oyewumi.
The NCC recently ordered telecom operators to suspend all telecommunications networks in some states, including Zamfara State, and at least 13 local government areas of Katsina State purportedly to check “banditry”/terrorism.