The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has dismissed a motion by the Federal Government of Nigeria seeking to prevent it from delivering its judgment and to strike out the four consolidated suits filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Blessing Oladunjoye, Publisher of BONews Service, four other non-governmental organizations, three other journalists and some Nigerian citizens challenging the Government’s June 4, 2021 decision to suspend Twitter in Nigeria.
The court ruled after realizing that the Nigerian Government’s application to stop its judgment in the matter was frivolous and lacked merit and accordingly dismissed it. It, therefore, adjourned the matter to May 10, 2022, when it will now deliver its verdict.
The Court had previously adjourned the cases for judgment on September 29, 2021, after hearing the arguments of the lawyers to the parties in the suits, including the lead counsel for MRA and the eight other applicants in the suit, Mrs. Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, all of whom also formally adopted their written submissions.
The applicants are contending that the suspension of the social media platform, Twitter, in Nigeria amounted to a violation of their fundamental rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
The consolidated suits are being heard by a panel of three judges consisting of Justice Gberi-Be- Ouattara, presiding; Justice Keikura Bangura, who is the judge rapporteur; and Justice Januaria Costa.
The Court ordered the consolidation of the four separate suits challenging the indefinite suspension of Twitter at its hearing on July 9, 2021, following a motion by the lawyer representing the Nigerian Government, Mr. Abdullahi Abubakar, who applied for the suits to be heard together since they deal with the same subject matter.
The Court had also earlier on June 22, 2021, issued provisional orders directing the Nigerian Government and its agents to refrain from imposing sanctions on any media house or harassing, intimidating, arresting, or prosecuting the applicants or concerned Nigerians for the use of Twitter and other social media platforms pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
The Court restated the provisional measures at its July 9, 2021 hearing, during which it ordered all the parties to ensure compliance with its decision.
A week before the January 20, 2022 date initially fixed by the Court for its judgment in the suits, the Nigerian Government announced on January 12, 2022, the lifting of Twitter’s suspension through the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mr. Kashifu Abdullahi, saying it had reached an agreement with Twitter on the resolution of the matter.
The Government, through its lawyer, Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru, thereafter filed an application dated January 20, 2022, asking the ECOWAS Court to strike out the suits for being devoid of purpose, for being an academic exercise and the subject matter has ceased to be in existence.
Following the dismissal of the motion, the Court has now fixed May 10, 2022, as the new date for judgment in the consolidated suits.