NBA readies 13-member legal team, Lai, Pantami lead talks with Twitter

Written by on June 10, 2021

The Nigerian Bar Association is set for a legal battle with the Federal Government over its decision to suspend operations of the micro-blogging and social media platform, Twitter.

The NBA National Publicity Secretary, Dr Rapulu Nduka, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Lagos, said a 13-member committee had been set up to handle matters relating to the suit the association planned to file against the Federal Government.

Nduka stated this on Wednesday learnt that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami; and his counterpart for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, would lead talks with Twitter.

The Federal Government has been under fire since Friday when the minister of Information and Culture, in a statement by his spokesman, Segun Adeyemi, suspended Twitter operations on the grounds that the platform was undermining the country’s corporate existence.

On Saturday, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, directed the Director of Public Prosecution in his ministry to begin the process of prosecuting violators of the suspension order.

But before Malami gave the directive, the NBA had on Friday threatened to institute a suit against the Federal Government over the suspension of Twitter’s operations.

Its President, Olumide Akpata, in a statement made via the social media platform, said government lacked constitutional authority to back its decision.

He said if the suspension was not reversed, the NBA would sue government to protect the country’s democracy.

The NBA National Publicity Secretary, Nduka, in the interview, said the suit was delayed by the strike by judiciary workers.

He, however, stated, “A committee has already been set up by the NBA to handle matters related to the intended suit. The members of the committee will do whatever it takes to address the issue.”

According to Nduka, the committee in charge of the suit is the NBA Public Interest Litigation Committee.

On Wednesday, he stated, “The mandate of the committee, among other things, is to actively take steps to reinforce the faith of society in law, bring solutions to societal issues and most especially, to check the abuse of power.

“The committee is chaired by Dr Charles Mekwunye, with Dr Olumide Ayeni (SAN) acting as its co-chairman. Other members of the committee include Dr Paul Ananaba (SAN), Kunle Edun, Aderemi Oguntoye, Boonyameen Lawal, Solomon Oho, Gloria Ballason, Malachy Odo, Olumide Babalola, Baba Isah, Amaka Ezeno, and Auwal Yau.”

He said the court, among others, would determine if the Federal Government had the power to suspend the operations of a company like Twitter just because the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was hurt by its policies.

Nduka added, “I must also confess that from the look of things, the Federal Government is trying to soft-pedal on the situation. We are watching and waiting for the courts to resume in order to take actions.”

The NBA spokesman said government initially stated that the ban was indefinite, but later claimed it was temporary.

He stated, “Hopefully, the government will retrace its steps and do the right thing. Whichever way it goes, issues like these need to be taken to court so that judicial principles can be made for future purposes.

“We do not only have the present administration in mind, some of these issues may arise in another administration and we do not want history to repeat itself.

“The motto of the NBA is ‘promoting the rule of law.’ It is unbelievable that the government has threatened to prosecute any Nigerian caught violating its order. I think the threat may have been made out of anger without recourse to its consequences.

“In the first place, under what law would such Nigerians be prosecuted? Also, what happens to the freedom of expression enshrined in our constitution which is a fundamental human right?

“In this light, we vow to protect and defend any Nigerian who will be prosecuted for tweeting, in violation of the Federal Government’s order. In essence, they have not committed any crime and we hope to defend them when the time comes.”

Also, the Chairman of the NBA Section of Public Interest and Development Law, Dr Monday Ubani, on Wednesday said he would sue Malami over the ban.

While speaking with newsmen, Ubani said Buhari’s regime had violated his rights.

He stated, “As a Nigerian citizen with full rights as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), I shall be proceeding to the court alongside other Twitter users whose rights have been violated, to seek immediate remedy to the wrongs meted out to us by this illegal ban.”

A Lagos-based lawyer, Chief Malcolm Omirhobo, has asked the ECOWAS Court of Justice to void the suspension.

In the suit he filed on Wednesday, the lawyer contended that through the suspension order, the Federal Government had denied him access to his Twitter and thus violated his “rights to freedom of association, speech and expression.”
Meanwhile, some activists have begun preparing suits which will be filed in court next Monday when courts resume.

A lawyer, Samuel Iheneskhien, who represents ‘One Love Foundation’, said he would be filing a suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday even as he revealed that the foundation had already filed a lawsuit before the ECOWAS court praying the court to declare the suspension of Twitter as a breach of African Charter on Human Rights.

“I will be filing processes before a Federal High Court on Monday,” he said.

Another activist, Inibehe Effiong, confirmed to The PUNCH that he would be heading to court next week.

“Yes, I will be heading to court to challenge the suspension of Twitter and other issues. I know others will be doing the same now that court workers have called off the strike,” he said.

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