The Federal Government on Wednesday hailed the German Government for the repatriation of Benin artefacts from the European country.
About 1,130 pieces of Benin Bronzes are expected to be returned to Nigeria next year, with Germany expressing its readiness to willingly decide to return the items, thus becoming the first country to do so.
As part of moves to achieve this, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, received the German government delegation that came to Nigeria for the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding.
According to a statement issued by Segun Adeyemi, the spokesman of the Minister, Mohammed said the MoU “marked the beginning of efforts that will culminate in the signing, in December 2021, of the agreement on the repatriation of the Benin Bronzes.”
This is even as he described the MoU signed between Nigeria and Germany in Abuja as a major step toward the repatriation of hundreds of Benin Bronzes from Germany next year.
“The German Government and the German people have taken a bold step by agreeing to voluntarily, without too much coercion on the part of Nigeria to return these artefacts. Because what the return of the artefacts will do is that it’s going to really cement further the relationship between Nigeria and Germany. Culture today has become one of the effective tools for soft diplomacy,” the Minister said.
“The return of the artefacts should not be an end of an era but rather the beginning of further cooperation between the two parties.”
Mohammed said a team of experts will leave Nigeria very soon to engage with stakeholders in Germany on the repatriation of the artefacts.
Although Germany acquired the artefacts through global trading in artefacts, the Minister explained that it had voluntarily agreed to relinquish them in order to further strengthen the bilateral ties between Nigeria and Germany.
He added: “A team of experts will be visiting some museum in Germany very soon and the whole idea is again confidence building to especially assuage their feeling of loss and make it lighter and easier for them and to also make their position more tenable with the people.”
In his remarks, the Director-General for Culture and Communication of the German Federal Foreign Office, Dr. Andreas Gorgen, said the release of the artefacts is part of a cultural policy that will contribute to healing the wound inflicted by the looting of the artefacts from Nigeria and to establishing a new relationship between Germany and Nigeria.
He commended the efforts of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and said the signed MoU was based on what the Minister initiated during his visit to Germany earlier in the year.
Members of the German delegation included the Director of the Museum at Rothenbaum, Prof. Barbara Plankensteiner; President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Prof. Hermann Parzinger and the German Ambassador to Nigeria, Birgitt Ory.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved ₦836 million for the establishment of oxygen production plants for COVID-19 pandemic intervention across the country.
Briefing State House reporters after the weekly FEC meeting on Wednesday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the approval of the upward review followed a memo presented by the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire to the council.
“The Minister of Health also presented a memo seeking for an upward review for the emergency supply, installation and maintenance of the 38 oxygen plants all over the country,” Mohammed said.
“You will remember in June, the Federal Executive Council, actually approved the sum of ₦5.615 billion to four major contractors for the emergency supply, installation and maintenance of 38 oxygen plants in various parts of the country.
“Regrettably, the four companies also came back recently with the same complaints ranging from fluctuation in the foreign exchange and the scarcity of this plant over the world as a result of material all as a result of COVID-19.
“So, he presented a memo for augmentation in the sum of ₦836 million and this was also approved today.”
The minister disclosed that the council also approved the revised estimate of costs and extension of the contract for the consultants supervising the Bagwai Water Dam Irrigation project from an initial sum of ₦98 million to ₦302.8 million.
He added, “The Bagwai Water Dam Irrigation project in Bagwai Local Government Area of Kano State was commenced; the initial contract was awarded in 2005.
“And due to several logistics problems, the project is still on and just recently, the FEC actually approved an augmentation of the entire contract and that means also that the mandate of the consultant supervising the construction would also have to be reviewed. So, now the total cost for the consultancy is ₦302.9 million.”
The Federal Government says Nigeria’s resolve to remain as one indivisible entity is unshakable, in spite of the various challenges facing the nation.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, stated this on Monday in Abuja at the opening of the ‘Nigeria at 60 Photo Exhibition’ with the theme “60 Years of Our Togetherness.”
“Like other countries in the world, it is an incontrovertible fact that Nigeria, over the years, has gone through challenging times, but we must not miss the fact that its resolve to remain as one indivisible entity has remained unshaken,” he said.
“The theme of the photo exhibition has been carefully couched to reflect on the unity of this great country in the past 60 years, despite its diverse cultures, traditions, practices, languages, and challenges.”
Mohammed disclosed that the ministry was using the opportunity provided by the Independence Anniversary celebration to organise a photo exhibition that would deliver information and educate Nigerians, especially the youth who needed a re-awakening voyage into the historical and unique heritage of the country and the secrets behind its unity in diversity.
“For those who did not witness Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, particularly the students, they can at least look at the photos of pre-independent Nigeria, the independence proper, post-independence era, leaders who fought for our independence; and have an idea of the struggle for freedom from colonialism and a mental picture of how the situation was then, which gives hope that whatever challenges we may be facing even at this time, we will surmount them and have a strong, united, peaceful and prosperous country,” he said.
According to the minister, the exhibition captures six decades of Nigeria’s independence, footprints of Nigeria’s political leaders, and 60 years of the labour of the heroes past in ensuring the country’s unity and peace.
He explained that the exhibition was to tell Nigeria’s 60-year story in pictorial form, delivering a photographic presentation of the nation’s icons, programmes for national integration such as the National Youth Service Corps programme, photos of inter-tribal marriages, creation of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; popular artists – both old and new, as well as the collective achievements in the area of sports which he said has been a strong and unifying force for the country.
Mohammed said the exhibition also captured ancient and modern fashion/attires/hairstyles, Nigerian cuisine, tourist attractions, festivals, as well as Nigerians in Diaspora and their achievements.
The exhibition, which is expected to run for three days at the National Press Centre in Abuja, was declared open by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha.
The Federal Government has again pledged to restore Twitter services in the country, hundred days after the tech giant was banned in Nigeria.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, disclosed this on Wednesday while briefing State House reporters after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja.
He said that the government is working hard to restore Twitter’s operations in Nigeria.
“Honestly, we have gone very far. I won’t be specific but we have gone very far,” the minister said.
“Honestly, it is going to be very soon. Just take my words for that. Even Twitter itself gave a progress report on our talks with them.
“If I want to quote them rightly, they said it has been quite productive and respectful. As to how soon is soon, if the operation has been successful for hundred days now, we are just talking about a few more days.
“I can assure Nigerians that we are not unmindful of the anxiety and both parties are working very hard to put a closure on the matter.”
“I can tell you, yes we have challenges with banditry, we have challenges with separatist groups, it does not make this country, Nigeria, a failed state.
“If what is happening in the last few weeks is anything to go by, we are winning this war.”
Mr Lai, who asked Nigerians to appreciate the government’s fight against insecurity, noted that the nation’s security situation is a lot better than what the present government met when it assumed power.
Recalling how the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the minister explained that ideologies are hard to defeat, something he says the present administration has been able to surmount while fighting Boko Haram.
According to him, before the present government, Boko Haram controlled a “swathe of land the size of Belgium” but have now been pushed “to a very small area”.
“This is what people should appreciate about fighting terrorism. The good news is that insurgents today are surrendering in droves and we are going after them,” he added.
The remaining three unresolved areas, according to him, are simply a matter of ‘when and not ‘if’ there would be an implementation of conditions discussed.
One of the pending issues according to the minister is in relation to the condition that Twitter establishes a legal presence in Nigeria, registered as a Nigerian company with an office address and an employee to serve as a country representative in the country.
While not turning down the proposition in totality, the micro-blogging site has maintained that the earliest it can establish a company is in 2022.
The Federal Government suspended Twitter’s operations in June after the social media platform deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari for breaching the site’s rules.
The Federal Government explained at the time that the suspension had no correlation with the deletion of the President’s tweets.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed says the Federal Government is not aware of any $875 million ammunition deal with the US which is being purportedly obstructed by some lawmakers in the States.
Mr. Mohammed stated this while speaking with newsmen on Friday in Abuja. According to him, there is no contract of such nature and sum between Nigeria and the US.
He described as #Fakenews, the purported sale of the weapons and explained that apart from the 12 AH-I-Cobra attack helicopters of which Nigeria has taken delivery of six, the government is not aware of any contract as being speculated.
The Minister said the received AH-1- Cobra Attack helicopters would be launched sometime in August, adding that the Federal Government is“quite satisfied with the progress and cooperation that we received from the government of the US on this issue”.
Reports suggesting that influential U.S. lawmakers were obstructing a proposed sale of ammunition and attack helicopters to Nigeria over allegations of human rights abuses and anti-democratic actions of the present administration have been making the rounds.
These reports suggest that the blocked proposed sale includes 12 AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters accompanied by defence systems, 28 helicopter engines produced by GE Aviation, and 14 military-grade aircraft navigation systems made by Honeywell.
Lai Mohammed however stated that the reports are false, emphasizing that “the relationship between Nigeria and the US is smooth and waxing stronger”.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, on Saturday said the Federal Government will be responsible for taking possession of the 1,130 Benin bronzes to be returned by Germany.
“The Federal Government is aware of the widely reported controversy on who will take possession of the Benin bronzes when they are returned from Germany,” Mr Mohammed said on Saturday at a press conference in Lagos.
The return of the bronzes, looted by Britain from Benin-city in the 19th century, had recently generated some controversy in Edo State.
While the Oba of Benin wants the artefacts returned to the Benin Royal Museum, Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki has said they will be kept in “a transformational museum to be built in Benin City.”
Mr Mohammed noted that the Federal Government would take possession while respecting the culture where the art originated from.
“Let me state clearly that, in line with international best practices and the operative conventions and laws, the return of the artefacts is being negotiated bilaterally between the national governments of Nigeria and Germany,” he said.
“What we are saying in essence is that the Federal Government will take possession of these antiquities because it is its duty to do so, in line with extant laws.
“But we have always exercised this right in cognizance of that culture that produced the art works.”
Although he did not state where the artefacts will be eventually kept, he thanked Governor Obaseki and the Oba of Benin for their work in the repatriation of the bronzes.
Mr Mohammed, who recently led a delegation to Berlin to discuss the modalities for the proposed return, said the agreement will be signed by December 2021 with repatriation to be concluded by August 2022.
He added that the return of the artefacts will be unconditional.
“We agreed to have a definite timeline for the repatriation of the artefacts because Nigeria is tired of an indefinite timeline,” he said.
“Thereafter, it was resolved that the agreement on the repatriation should be signed latest by December this year and that the repatriation should be concluded by August 2022.
“We made our Germany counterparts realise that Nigeria is averse to attaching preconditions to repatriating the Benin bronzes. We made it clear that these are our properties and it is not proper to give us conditions for releasing them.
“We therefore agreed that the release will be unconditional, neither will it be staggered.
“We have decided that the repatriation of the artefacts should not be the end of an era but rather the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy, between Nigeria and Germany.”
Read his full statement on Saturday below:
TEXT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE HON. MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, ON THE EFFORTS BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO REPATRIATE LOOTED/SMUGGLED ARTEFACTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD….IN LAGOS ON SATURDAY JULY 17TH 2021
Good morning gentlemen and thank you for once again honoring our invitation. We have organized this press conference to update Nigerians on the efforts being made by the Federal Government to repatriate looted and smuggled Nigerian artefacts from around the world. We also believe that you, as critical stakeholders, must be carried along in these efforts.
2. Recall, gentlemen, that on Nov. 28th 2019, I announced, at a press conference here in Lagos, the launch of the Campaign For The Return and Restitution of Nigeria’s Looted/Smuggled Artifacts from around the world. I said that with the launch, we are putting on notice all those who are holding on to Nigeria’s cultural property anywhere in the world that we are coming for them, using all legal and diplomatic instruments available. Less than two years after that announcement, I can report back to Nigerians that our efforts at repatriating Nigeria’s looted artefacts are achieving positive results. The work ahead remains tough and daunting, but we will not relent until we have repatriated all our stolen and smuggled antiquities. These artefacts are so cherished all over the world and we realize that if they are returned to Nigeria and properly exhibited within and outside the country under our control, they stand to increase the influx of tourists to our nation and earn us good money. Of course, these timeless and priceless pieces of work are an important part of our past, our history, our heritage resource, and allowing them to sit in the museums of other nations robs us of our history.
3. Gentlemen, even though not everyone in possession of these artefacts is willing to return them, we remain undeterred as we have deployed all legal and diplomatic means and we have been recording successes in our quest for repatriation. Here are some of the successes we have recorded since that press conference in 2019:
– In October 2020, The Netherlands returned a highly-valued 600-year-old Ife Terracotta.
– In March 2021, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland agreed to return a Benin Bronze from its collections. We shall take possession of this in October this year.
– In April 2021, we received a bronze piece from Mexico.
– The University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom has also agreed to return a disputed Benin artefact. We will soon commence the procedure for the repatriation of this highly-valued piece.
– We have also secured a date in October 2021 for the repatriation of antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. These antiquities consist of two important Benin Bronzes and an exquisite Ife Bronze head. We are currently before the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to it Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) in Paris, where we have instituted a claim against a Belgian who wanted to auction an Ife Bronze head valued at $5 million, at least. This Ife Bronze antiquity has been seized by the London Metropolitan Police, pending the decision on who the true owner is. Of course, we all know that the true owner is Nigeria.
REPATRIATION OF LOOTED ARTEFACTS FROM GERMANY 4. The most remarkable progress in our quest to repatriate our looted artefacts has been recorded in Germany, which is currently working with us for the repatriation of 1,130 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. As you are aware, I recently led a high-level Nigerian delegation to Berlin, Germany, to iron out the modalities for the repatriation. During the trip, our delegation met with Prof. Monika Grutters, the German Minister of State for Culture, who has responsibility for antiquities; the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas, the Secretary of State in the German President’s office, Mr. Stephen Steinlein, and Harmann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is the centre of the German culture establishment, and his team, I also met with the Directors of at least 20 major museums. The negotiations were tough but fruitful. We have agreed that there is no going back on the issue of returning the Benin Bronzes.
5. At the meetings in Germany, I insisted, and it was resolved that provenance research on the Benin Bronzes cannot and must not delay their return, since the origin of Benin objects is not a subject of dispute as such objects are only associated with the Benin Kingdom. On the German authorities’ proposal to return a ‘substantial part’ of the Benin Bronzes. I have asserted the stand of the Nigerian government by demanding full and unconditional release of the artefacts. Concerning recording the artefacts in 3D formats for posterity and academic sake under the ‘digitalbenin’ project, of which we are a part. I have told the Germans that this work of digitalizing the Benin Bronzes must not delay the return of the artefacts and that issues related to copyrights ownership and other rights over the digitalized objects will be discussed soon.
6. We agreed to have a definitive timeline for the repatriation of the artefacts because Nigeria is tired of an indefinite timeline. Therefore, we resolved that the agreement on the repatriation should be signed in December 2021 and the repatriation should be concluded by August 2022. I told the Germans that Nigeria is averse to attaching pre-conditions to repatriating the Benin Bronzes. These are our properties, do not give us conditions for releasing them. We therefore agreed that the release will be unconditional, neither will it be staggered.
7. It must be noted, however, that the meetings in Germany were not only about repatriating these objects. We have decided that the repatriation of the artefacts should not be the end of an era but the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy, between Nigeria and Germany. In this regard, there are other benefits accruing to Nigeria from the ongoing talks. There will be archaeological training for Nigerians. The Nigerian side and the German side agreed to Nigeria’s proposal to use the repatriated artefacts and other works of art to inspire Nigeria’s Creative Industry towards realizing its high potential. For this and other purposes, it was agreed that the Germans will facilitate the establishment of an academy in Nigeria.
CONTROVERSY OVER THE POSSESSION OF THE RETURNED ARTEFACTS 8. Gentlemen, the Federal Government is aware of the widely-reported controversy on who will take possession of the Benin Bronzes when they are returned from Germany. Let me state clearly here that, in line with international best practice and the operative Conventions and laws, the return of the artefacts is being negotiated bilaterally between the national governments of Nigeria and Germany. Nigeria is the entity recognized by international law as the authority in control of antiquities originating from Nigeria. The relevant international Conventions treat heritage properties as properties belonging to the nation and not to individuals or subnational groups. For example, the 1970 UNESCO Convention, in its Article 1, defines cultural property as property specifically designated by that nation. This allows individual nations to determine what it regards as its cultural property. Nevertheless, the Nigerian state – through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments – has in working assiduously over the past years to repatriate our looted artefacts carried along our important traditional institutions and state governments
9. What I am saying in essence is that the Federal government will take possession of these antiquities, because it is its duty to do so, in line with the extant laws. But we have always exercised this right in cognizance of that culture that produced the art works. That is why the Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments have always involved both the Edo State government and the Royal Benin Palace in discussions and negotiations that have now resulted in the impending return of these antiquities. Please note that we are not just involved in the repatriation of Benin artefacts. We are also working on repatriating Ife Bronzes and Terracotta, Nok Terracotta, Owo Terracotta, the arts of the Benue River Valley, the Igbo Ukwu, the arts of Bida, the arts of Igala, Jukun etc. Recall, gentlemen, our efforts over the Igbo statues that were auctioned at Christie’s in Year 2020, and the fact that we took the British and Belgian authorities to ICPRCP in 2019 over an Ife object.
10. Finally, I want to most sincerely commend the Government of Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and indeed from the African continent. As I said during the meetings in Berlin, we see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead. I also want to thank Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, who was with us all through the tough negotiations in Berlin, and His Royal Majesty the Oba of Benin, who sent the Benin Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Ezelekhae Ewuare, to be a part of the Nigerian delegation to Berlin. We thank all Nigerians, especially the media, for their support for our efforts to repatriate all our looted artefacts.
11. Gentlemen, I thank you for listening. I will now take your questions.
The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, on Thursday accused leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu of living a life of luxury while on the run outside the country.
Mr Mohammed, speaking at a press conference in Abuja, said the IPOB leader, who was recently re-arrested and re-arraigned in Abuja, will face the full wrath for the law for challenging Nigeria’s sovereignty and unity.
“It will interest Nigerians to know that for over two years, our security and intelligence agencies were on the trail of the proscribed IPOB leader as he lived a five-star life across several countries, travelling on chartered private jets, living in luxury apartments and turning out in designing clothes and shoes,” Mr Mohammed said.
“Of course, as we all saw, he was wearing an attire made by Fendi, a luxury Italian fashion brand, when he was arrested.
“We can tell you that the forensic investigation carried out so far has revealed a treasure trove of information on the proscribed IPOB leader and his collaborators.
“While the investigation continues, we assure you that none of the collaborators, irrespective of their standing in the society, will be spared.
“They will all face the full wrath of the law for their activities that challenge our nation’s sovereignty and threaten its unity. No one, no matter how highly placed, is bigger than the country.”
Collaboration with international agencies
According to Mr, Nnamdi Kanu is facing an 11-count charge of treason, treasonable felony, terrorism and illegal possession of firearms, among others.
Kanu had earlier jumped bail in 2017 and left the country before he was re-arrested “through the collaboration of Nigerian security and intelligence agencies” and “sister international agencies.”
Mr Mohammed commended the professionalism and patriotism of the security agencies involved in the operation.
However, he declined to confirm speculations on how the re-arrest was pulled off.
“What we can tell you, once again, is that the re-arrest was made possible by the diligent efforts of our security and intelligence agencies, in collaboration with countries with which we have obligations,” he said. “We continue to respect and honour the obligations.”
Mr Mohammed said Nnamdi Kanu will be granted a fair trial.
“It is interesting that many are suddenly calling for a fair trial for Kanu as if he didn’t get one before he decided to jump bail and flee,” he said.
“However, I can assure you that the fair deal that Kanu denied many of the victims of the violence which he willfully instigated through his broadcasts and tweets will not be denied him.”
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has accused social media giant Twitter of providing a platform for secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to promote violence in the country.
He made the allegation on Tuesday in his presentation before members of the House Representatives Joint Committee on the suspension of Twitter at the National Assembly in Abuja.
“The decision of the Federal Government to ban the activities of Twitter for being a national security threat is well-founded in law in light of the fact that the platform affords IPOB, an organisation already proscribed by the Federal High Court, to champion its seditious and terrorist-based activities,” the minister said.
Twitter had deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 2, while the Nigerian government suspended the social media giant days later.
Amid the widespread criticism that trailed the action of the government, some prominent political and religious leaders insisted that they would not stop using Twitter despite the threat to sanction them.
Appearing before the lawmakers, Mohammed stated that the social media giant was suspended because it allowed activities on its platform which he claimed promoted destabilisation of Nigeria, especially by separatist groups.
He disclosed that the government has resolved that all social media platforms must register as Nigerian companies and pay taxes before they can be allowed to operate in the country.
The minister stressed that the move was not to stifle free speech or gag the media in any way, saying it was done in accordance with the law.
He also alleged that Twitter played an unsavoury role during the EndSARS protest as it used its platform to raise funds for the protesters.
According to Mohammed, Section 78 (1) of the CAMA Law 2020, states that a foreign company cannot operate in Nigeria unless it first registers and the government is empowered to defend Nigeria’s cyberspace, including social media.
Responding to questions on the impact of the suspension on businesses, he advised Nigerians to use other platforms for their online businesses.
The minister insisted that individual interest would not take precedence over national security, stressing that the ban was legal.
Other members of the team include the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; Minister of Communications and Digital Economy; Minister of Foreign Affairs; Minister of Works and Housing; Minister of State for Labour and Employment as well as other relevant government agencies.
The statement added that Twitter had earlier written to President Muhammadu Buhari seeking to engage with the Federal Government over the suspension of the microblogging site in Nigeria.
“This is with a view to charting a path forward,” the statement added.
The Federal Government earlier in June placed a ban on the usage of Twitter in Nigeria citing activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja “to stop the Federal Government and the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed from using their patently unlawful directive to all TV and radio stations not to use Twitter, and to delete their accounts as a pretext to harass, intimidate, suspend or impose criminal punishment on journalists and broadcast stations simply for using social media platforms.”
The suit followed the order by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) asking TV and radio stations to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”, and telling them to delete ‘unpatriotic’ Twitter after the social media giant was banned in the country for deleting President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/496/2021 filed last Friday, SERAP is seeking: “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr Lai Muhammed and any other persons from censoring, regulating, licensing and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations, and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.”
In the suit, SERAP is also seeking “an order setting aside the directive by NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed asking broadcast stations to stop using Twitter, as it is unconstitutional, unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and the country’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
SERAP is arguing that “The government of President Buhari, the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed have consistently made policies and given directives to crack down on media freedom, and the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and access to information, and to impose crippling fines and other sanctions on broadcast stations without any legal basis whatsoever.”
According to SERAP: “The court has an important role to play in the protection and preservation of the rule of law to ensure that persons and institutions operate within the defined ambit of constitutional and statutory limitations.”
SERAP is also arguing that “Where agencies of government are allowed to operate at large and at their whims and caprices in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the end result will be anarchy, licentiousness, authoritarianism and brigandage leading to the loss of the much cherished and constitutionally guaranteed freedom and liberty.”
According to SERAP: “By using the National Broadcasting Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to stop broadcast stations from using Twitter without recourse to the court, the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed have contravened the right to access to justice and fair hearing guaranteed under sections 6 & [b] and 36 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, and articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi, and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “The directive by the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed to broadcasters to delete their Twitter accounts is unlawful, as it amounts to a fundamental breach of the principle of legality, the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom, and incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations.”
“SERAP and concerned Nigerians are entitled to the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom subject only to lawful restrictions. SERAP and concerned Nigerians frequently rely on the Twitter handles of many broadcast stations as sources of information for our activities in the promotion of transparency and accountability in the country.”
“Nigeria is a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which impose legal obligations on the government of President Buhari to ensure that the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom are respected, promoted, protected, fulfilled, and not unlawfully restricted.”
“The NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed have not shown any law breached by journalists, broadcast stations and media houses in Nigeria, and the government of President Buhari cannot use any disagreement with Twitter as a ploy to violate Nigerians’ rights and undermine their individual businesses and professional duties.”
“The drafters of the Nigerian Constitution well knew the danger inherent in special executive and legislative acts which take away the life, liberty, or property of particular named persons. They intended to safeguard the people of this country from punishment without trial by duly constituted courts. These principles are so fundamental and must be respected.”
“The directive to broadcast stations has seriously undermined the ability of Nigerians and other people in the country to freely express themselves in a democracy, and undermined the ability of journalists, media houses, broadcast stations, and other people to freely carry out their professional duties.”
“The Twitter accounts by broadcast stations and media houses are their own properties acquired upon privity of terms and conditions formulated by the Twitter Inc. and accepted by the stations and media houses.”
SERAP is also asking the Federal High Court for the following reliefs:
1. A DECLARATION that the directive by the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed to broadcast stations in Nigeria to deactivate their Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source of information gathering is unlawful, and amounts to a breach of the principles of legality and no punishment without law, and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom guaranteed under sections 39 and 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 [as amended], Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
2. A DECLARATION that the acts of the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed in relying on the National Broadcasting Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to unilaterally direct broadcast stations to delete their Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter without recourse to the court amount to an infringement on sections 6 & [b], 36 and 44 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], Articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
3. A DECLARATION that the provision of section 2[r] of the National Broadcasting Act and sections 5.6.3, 5.11.3 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code being inconsistent and incompatible with sections 36, 39, and 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility.
4. A DECLARATION that the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed lack the power and authority to unlawfully impose penalties such as fines and other sanctions on any journalists and broadcast stations for using Twitter, and refusing/failing to deactivate their Twitter handles.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.