The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the court for “an order of perpetual injunction to restrain President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Communications 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.”
A statement by SERAP through its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare on Sunday noted that the group is also asking the court to determine if the shutdown of mobile services violates the rights of citizens.
It says SERAP is 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.”
BREAKING: Weâve asked the court for an order of perpetual injunction to stop President Buhari and Mr Isa Pantami from unlawfully shutting down telecommunication networks in any part of Nigeria.— SERAP (@SERAPNigeria) December 5, 2021
Large-scale shutdowns of communication networks are a form of collective punishment.
The suit, which has been assigned to Honourable Justice Ahmed Mohammed at Court 4, is fixed for hearing on January 11, 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,” he said.
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 public health and morals.
“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 filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Kehinde Oyewumi, read in part: “Internet and telecommunication shutdowns amount to inherently disproportionate interference with the rights to freedom of expression and information. Necessity requires a showing that shutdowns would achieve their stated purpose, which in fact they often jeopardize.”
“In June 2016, the UN Human Rights Council, condemned ‘measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law.’ The Council called on all States, including Nigeria, to refrain from and cease such measures.
“Shutdowns generate a wide variety of harms to human rights, economic activity, public safety and emergency services that outweigh the purported benefits. Any shutdown has the potential to affect millions of internet and telecommunication users, and those on the margins of society are most impacted by it.
“The suspension of the internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara and Katsina states, without any legal justification, is inconsistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality. The suspension is a form of collective punishment of Nigerians resident in these states," it added.
The NCC, with the support of the government recently shut down telecom services in some states, including Zamfara State, and at least 13 local government areas of Katsina State purportedly to check banditry and terrorism.