#TwitterBan: We Are Monitoring Closely Repression In Nigeria, Says Commonwealth

 

The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC has stated that the Commonwealth is “closely monitoring developments around the suspension of Twitter, and allegations of repression of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, media freedom, as well as disregard for the rule of law in Nigeria.”

Ms. Scotland said: “All Commonwealth member countries, including Nigeria, have obligations and commitments to uphold freedom of expression as one of the core values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter. This underscores a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments.”

The statement by the Commonwealth followed an Urgent Appeal by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urging Ms. Scotland to “apply the Commonwealth Charter to hold the Nigerian government to account over the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and the resulting repression of freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.”

This development was disclosed today by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare.

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In the Urgent Appeal, SERAP had stated that: “The Nigerian government has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not committed to protecting human rights. The Commonwealth should take a clear stand to ensure accountability of institutions, freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in Nigeria.”

Responding, Ms Scotland in a letter sent to SERAP, said: “I write to acknowledge with thanks, receipt of your letter dated 5 June 2021 highlighting concerns about the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.”

The letter by the Commonwealth dated 22 July 2021, and signed on behalf of Ms Scotland by Roger Koranteng, Officer in Charge, Governance and Peace Directorate, read in part: “The Commonwealth Secretary-General has been following the developments in Nigeria very closely and she is engaging the relevant stakeholders.”

“Please be assured that the Secretariat will remain engaged with the authorities in Nigeria and encourage a speedy resolution of this matter.”

“All Commonwealth member countries [including Nigeria] have committed themselves to uphold freedom of expression as one of the core values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter, which underscores a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments.”

Kolawole Oluwadare said: “We are very delighted that our letter and the concerns that it raises have caught the attention of the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Given her public record for justice and human rights, we have absolutely no doubt that she will prevail on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to lift the unlawful suspension of Twitter, respect human rights, and obey the rule of law.”

“But it should never have reached this level, as the government has absolutely no justification to suspend Twitter in Nigeria. The Buhari administration ought to have complied with the Commonwealth Charter and other similar human rights standards as a matter of routine.”

SERAP’s Urgent Appeal dated 5 June 2021, read in part: “Ms. Scotland should urgently consider recommending the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth to the Heads of Government, the Commonwealth Chair-in-office, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as Head of the Commonwealth to push the government to take concrete measures to respect and promote the Commonwealth’s values of human rights, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.”

“Nigerians can only freely participate in the democratic processes and shape the society in which they live if these fundamental human rights are fully and effectively-respected, protected and promoted.”

“The suspension has the character of collective punishment and is antithetical to the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international obligations. Nigerian authorities would seem to be suppressing people’s access to Twitter to exploit the shutdown to cover up allegations of corruption, abuses, and restrict freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.”

“The Nigerian government has also called for the prosecution of those who violate its order suspending Twitter operations in Nigeria. This order for the prosecution of Twitter users violates the legal rule that there should be no punishment without law.”

“Respect for Commonwealth values is essential for citizens to trust Commonwealth institutions. The Commonwealth ought to take a strong stand for the protection of human rights, transparency, and the rule of law in Nigeria, principles which are fundamental to the Commonwealth’s integrity, functioning, and effectiveness of its institutions.”

“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria demonstrates the authorities’ determination to suppress all forms of peaceful dissent by the Nigerian people. There are well-founded fears that the human rights situation in Nigeria will deteriorate even further if urgent action is not taken to address it.”

“According to our information, the Nigerian government on Friday 4 June 2021 unlawfully ordered all internet service providers to suspend Twitter in Nigeria. The suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria followed the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweets, which according to Twitter ‘violated the Twitter Rules.’”

“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is taking place against the background of repression of the civic space and harassment of media houses, and journalists who are targeted simply for performing their professional duty.”

“The suspension of Twitter has seriously undermined transparency and accountability in government. The lack of transparency undermines the rule of law and Nigerians’ ability to participate in their own government.”

“Lack of transparency and accountability, and the absence of the rule of law in Nigeria have contributed hugely to denying Nigerians their fundamental human rights. People have been targeted simply for using Twitter and peacefully exercising their fundamental human rights.”

SERAP Sues Buhari Over Gag Order On Reporting Of Terrorist Attacks

SERAP Threatens To Sue UI, AAUA Over Increased Fees
A logo of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

 

The Socio-Economic Rights and AccountabilityProject (SERAP) and the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development have filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, over the order stopping journalists and broadcast stations from reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims.

They are asking the court to declare the order illegal.

Joined in the suit as Defendant, is the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

The suit followed the directive by the NBC, asking journalists, television and radio stations in Nigeria to stop “glamourising and giving too many details on the nefarious activities of terrorists and kidnappers” during their daily newspaper reviews.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/725/2021 filed last Friday, SERAP and PTCIJ are seeking: “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr Lai Muhammed or any other persons from imposing fines or other sanctions on broadcast stations for carrying out their constitutional duties of reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims during daily newspaper reviews.”

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They are also seeking “an order to compel and direct the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed to withdraw the directive asking journalists and broadcast stations to stop reporting details on terrorist attacks and victims, as the directive is unlawful and inconsistent with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and the country’s international human rights obligations.

“An order setting aside the directive on reporting of terrorist attacks and victims, for being inconsistent and incompatible with sections 22 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

According to SERAP, “unless the reliefs sought are urgently granted by this Honourable Court, the directive by the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed would be used to impermissibly restrict Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, access to information, media freedom, and victims’ right to justice and effective remedies.”

SERAP and PTCIJ are arguing that the failure by the government to withdraw the directive, violates sections 5[a] and [b], 147 and 148 of the Nigerian Constitution, Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1], and Oath of office [Seventh Schedule] of the Constitution.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP and PTCIJ by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “The NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed lack the power and authority to restrict the ability of journalists and broadcast stations to carry out their constitutional duties and to unlawfully impose penalties such as fines and other sanctions on any journalists and broadcast stations for reporting on details of terrorist attacks and victims in the country.”

“SERAP and PTCIJ together with several millions of Nigerians easily access information, news and form opinions on government policies through the daily newspaper reviews by journalists and broadcast stations in Nigeria.”

SERAP believes that while the NBC has the powers to make rules to enable it perform its statutory functions under section 2[1] [a] to [u] of NBC Act, such statutory powers ought to be exercised in line with the Nigerian Constitution, and the country’s international human rights obligations.

SERAP Gives Buhari Govt 24 Hours To Withdraw ‘Gag Order’On Reporting Of Terrorist Attacks

A photo combination of SERAP and President Muhammadu Buhari

 

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to use his leadership position “to urgently instruct Mr. Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to withdraw the directive containing a sweeping gag order banning journalists and broadcast stations from reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims across the country.”

The NBC had in a letter dated 7 July, 2021 issued a directive asking journalists, television and radio stations in Nigeria to stop “glamourising and giving too many details on the nefarious activities of terrorists and kidnappers” during their daily newspaper reviews.

Reacting, SERAP in a letter dated 17 July, 2021 and signed by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “The contents of the directive by the NBC to journalists and broadcast stations are entirely inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s obligations under article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

SERAP said: “We would be grateful if the repressive directive is withdrawn within 24 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest.”

The organization expressed “grave concern that the contents of the NBC directive would impermissibly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, information, and victims’ right to justice and effective remedies that are central to public debate and accountability in a democratic society.”

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SERAP said: “Reporting on the growing violence and killings in many parts of the country is a matter of public interest. The NBC directive to journalists and broadcast stations to stop reporting these cases, coupled with the possibility of fines and other punishment, would have a disproportionate chilling effect on the work of those seeking to hold the government accountable to the public.”

The letter, read in part: “The broad definitions of what may constitute ‘too many details’, ‘glamourising’, ‘divisive rhetoric’, and ‘security issues’ heighten concerns of overreach, confer far-reaching discretion on the government, and suggest that the NBC directive is more intrusive than necessary.”

“These words and phrases do not indicate precisely what kind of individual conduct would fall within their ambit.”

“The vague and overbroad definitions of ‘too many details’, ‘glamourising’, ‘divisive rhetoric’, and ‘security issues’ also raise concern that the NBC directive unduly interferes with the rights to freedom of expression and information, and is disproportionate to any purported legitimate governmental aim. Ill-defined and/or overly broad directives are open to arbitrary application and abuse.”

“The use of these words and phrases by the NBC, given their opaque and ambiguous meaning, leaves open the possibility for application beyond unequivocal incitement to hatred, hostility or violence. Such words and phrases may function to interpret legitimate reporting by broadcast stations, journalists, and other Nigerians as unlawful.”

“Exacerbating these concerns are growing restriction of civic space, the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and the attempts by your government to push for the amendment of the Nigeria Press Council Act and the National Broadcasting Commission Act, to further suppress media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information.”

“Allowing the media to freely carry out their duties is essential to building a secure society and leaving no one behind. Conversely, imposing impermissible restrictions on broadcast stations, journalists and other Nigerians undermines the security that builds a healthy and vibrant society.”

“Article 19(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes the right to freedom of opinion without interference. Article 19(2) establishes Nigeria’s obligations to respect and ensure this right, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, and through any media of one’s choice.”

“Under article 19(3), restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be ‘provided by law’, 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’.”

“Although article 19(3) recognizes ‘national security’ as a legitimate aim, the Human Rights Council, the body charged with monitoring implementation of the Covenant, has stressed ‘the need to ensure that invocation of national security is not used unjustifiably or arbitrarily to restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression.’”

“Since article 19(2) promotes so clearly a right to information of all kinds, this indicates that your government bears the burden of justifying any restriction on reporting of cases of violence and killings, and withholding of such information as an exception to that right.”

“Any restrictions should be applied strictly so that they do not put in jeopardy the right itself. The NBC directive to broadcast stations fails to meet the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.”

“The requirement of necessity also implies an assessment of the proportionality of restrictions such as those being imposed by the NBC, with the aim of ensuring that restrictions target a specific objective and do not unduly intrude upon the rights of targeted persons.”

“The interference with the constitutional and legal duties of journalists and broadcast stations cannot be justified in the context of the right to information, as the NBC directive has not shown that their reporting would impose a specific risk of harm to a legitimate State interest that outweighs the public’s interest in such information.”

“The NBC directive may also create an environment that unduly deters and penalizes broadcast stations and journalists, and the reporting of government wrongdoing more generally.”

“The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom expression has concluded that national security considerations should be ‘limited in application to situations in which the interest of the whole nation is at stake, which would thereby exclude restrictions in the sole interest of a government, regime, or power group.’”

“SERAP notes the collective interdependency of the compendium of constitutional and international human rights, which function to collectively complement and enhance the advancement of the security and rights of each individual in society.”

“We hope that the aspects highlighted will help guide your actions in acting to ensure that Nigerian journalists and media can freely carry out their constitutional duties as contained in Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution.”

“While your government has the obligation to maintain national security, this obligation is not set apart from the obligation to protect and ensure human rights. National security is a necessary and integral part of the right to security guaranteed to each person individually.”

“According to our information, the NBC called for ‘caution’ by broadcasters while reporting security challenges in the country. The directive, titled: ‘Newspaper Reviews And Current Affairs Programmes: A Need For Caution’, was signed by the Director, Broadcast Monitoring, Francisca Aiyetan, on behalf of the new Director-General of the Commission, Balarabe Ilelah.”

SERAP Asks Court To Slash Allowances For Buhari, Govs, NASS Members

File photo of President Muhammadu Buhari

 

 

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Federal High Court in Abuja “to order the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) to perform their statutory functions to review downward the remuneration and allowances of President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, 36 governors and members of the National Assembly”.

SERAP is arguing that “slashing jumbo pay for these high-ranking political office-holders would reduce the unfair pay disparity between political officer holders and judicial officers, address the persistent poor treatment of judges, and improve access of victims of corruption to justice and effective remedies”.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/658/2021 filed on Friday, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the RMAFC to send its downward review of the remuneration and allowances of these high-ranking public office holders and recommendations to the National Assembly for appropriate remedial and legislative action, as provided for by the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended].”

The suit was filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo.

SERAP is also seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the RMAFC to perform its mandatory constitutional duty to urgently review upward the remuneration, salaries, and allowances, as well as the conditions of service for Nigerian judges.”

Joined in the suit as respondents are Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, for themselves, and on behalf of all members of the Senate and House of Representative; and the National Judicial Council.

According to SERAP, while high-ranking political office-holders continue to enjoy lavish allowances, including life pensions, and access to security votes, which they have powers to spend as they wish, the remuneration and allowances of judges are grossly insufficient to enable them to maintain themselves and their families in reasonable comfort.

“The huge pay disparity between these high-ranking political officer-holders and judges is unfair, unjust, and discriminatory, especially given the roles of judges to the people and the country,” it said.

“While government reviewed upward the salaries and allowances of political office holders on four occasions between May 1999 and March 2011, the salaries and allowances of judicial officers were only reviewed twice during the same period.”

Prior to filing the suit, SERAP had written to the NSIWC about the matter and received confirmation about its powers.

“The NSIWC in a letter to SERAP admitted that it has powers to examine, streamline and recommend the salary scales applicable to each post in the public service but informed us to redirect our request to the RMAFC,” SERAP said.

“There is a legal duty upon the RMAFC to urgently review downward the remuneration and allowances of high-ranking political office-holders.”

As far as the legal and advocacy organisation is concerned, the current situation amounts to the unfair, discriminatory and unconstitutional treatment of judges.

“Despite their important roles and responsibilities, Nigerian judges are poorly treated, particularly when their remuneration, salaries, allowances, and conditions of service are compared with that of political office-holders. Judges should not have to endure the most poignant financial worries,” it said.

Beyond the disparity between the remuneration of judges and political office holders, SERAP’s suit is also based on the impact of the increase in cost of living and the importance of the roles played by judges, a role it considers as second to none with regard to providing justice and protecting human rights.

“As a safeguard of judicial independence, the budget of the judiciary ought to be prepared in collaboration with the judiciary having regard to the peculiar needs and requirements of judicial administration,” it said.

“The remuneration and pensions of judges must be secured by law at an adequate level that is consistent with their status and is sufficient to safeguard against conflict of interest and corruption.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

SERAP Sues Buhari Over $25bn Overdrafts Taken From CBN

A photo combination of SERAP and President Muhammadu Buhari

 

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit, asking the court “to compel President Muhammadu Buhari to disclose spending details of the overdrafts and loans obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) since May 29, 2015, including the projects on which the overdrafts have been spent, and repayments of all overdrafts to date.”

SERAP is also seeking an order to compel the president to “explain and clarify whether the $25bn (N9.7trn) overdraft reportedly obtained from the CBN is within the five-percent limit of the actual revenue of the government for 2020.”

The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request to President Buhari, stating that: “Disclosing details of overdrafts and repayments would enable Nigerians to hold the government to account for its fiscal management and ensure that public funds are not mismanaged or diverted.”

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/559/2021 filed last week at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is also seeking: “an order directing and compelling President Buhari to disclose details of overdrafts taken from the CBN by successive governments between 1999 and 2015.”

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In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “Secrecy and the lack of public scrutiny of the details of CBN overdrafts and repayments is antithetical to the public interest, the common good, the country’s international legal obligations, and a fundamental breach of constitutional oath of office.”

Joined in the suit as respondents are the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN; the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; and the Governor of CBN, Godwin Emefiele.

SERAP is also arguing that: “Ensuring transparency and accountability in the spending of CBN overdrafts and loans would promote prudence in debt management, reduce any risks of corruption and mismanagement, and help the government to avoid the pitfalls of excessive debt.”

According to SERAP: “By the combined reading of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the Freedom of Information Act, the UN Convention against Corruption, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, there are transparency obligations imposed on the government to disclose information to the public concerning details of CBN overdrafts, loans and repayments to date.”

SERAP is also arguing that: “The Nigerian Constitution, Freedom of Information Act, and these treaties rest on the basic principle that citizens should have access to information regarding their government’s activities.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo, read in part: “Transparency and accountability in the spending of CBN overdrafts would also ensure that public funds are properly spent, reduce the level of public debt, and improve the ability of the government to invest in essential public goods and services, such as quality education, healthcare, and clean water.”

“It is the primary responsibility of the government to ensure public access to these services in order to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”

“Transparency and accountability in the spending of CBN overdrafts and loans would also improve the ability of the government to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis. This means that the government would not have to choose between saving lives or making debt payments.”

“The recent overdraft of $25.6bn (about N9.7trn) reportedly obtained from the CBN would appear to be above the five-percent limit of the actual revenue of the Federal Government for 2020, that is, N3.9trn, prescribed by Section 38(2) of the CBN Act 2007. SERAP notes that five-percent of N3.9trn is N197bn.”

“While Section 38(1) of the CBN Act allows the Bank to grant overdrafts to the Federal Government to address any temporary deficiency of budget revenue, sub-section 2 provides that any outstanding overdraft ‘shall not exceed five-percent of the previous year’s actual revenue of the Federal Government.’”

“Similarly, Section 38(3) requires all overdrafts to ‘be repaid as soon as possible and by the end of the financial year in which the overdrafts are granted.’”

“The CBN is prohibited from granting any further overdrafts until all outstanding overdrafts have been fully repaid. Under the CBN Act, ‘no repayment shall take the form of a promising note or such other promise to pay at a future date, treasury bills, bonds or other forms of security which is required to be underwritten by the Bank.’”

“Similarly, the Fiscal Responsibility Act provides in section 41 that the government ‘shall only borrow for capital expenditure and human development.’ Under the Act, the government ‘shall ensure that the level of public debt as a proportion of national income is held at a sustainable level.’”

“Section 44 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act requires the government to specify the purpose of any borrowing, which must be applied towards capital expenditures, and to carry out cost-benefit analysis, including the economic and social benefits of any borrowing. Any borrowing should serve the public good, and be guided by human rights principles.”

“SERAP has consistently recommended to the Federal Government to reduce its level of borrowing and to look at other options of how to finance its budget, such as reducing the costs of governance, and addressing systemic and widespread corruption in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that have been documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.”

“Our requests are brought in the public interest, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution; the Freedom of Information Act; the Fiscal Responsibility Act; the Central Bank Act; the Debt Management Office Act; and the country’s international legal obligations.”

“There is a statutory obligation on the respondents, being public officers in their respective public offices, to proactively keep, organize and maintain all information or records about CBN overdrafts, loans, and repayments in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or records.”

“Mandamus lies to secure the performance of a public duty in the performance in which the applicant has a sufficient legal interest.”

“Unless the reliefs sought by SERAP are granted, the respondents will not provide SERAP with the information requested and will continue to be in breach of their constitutional responsibilities and the country’s international legal obligations and commitments.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

SERAP Asks African Commission To Order FG, NASS To Withdraw Bills To Gag Media

 

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, The Gambia, to “issue provisional measures to urgently stop the Nigerian government and National Assembly from supporting and pushing through two bills to gag the media, and impose arbitrary and harsh punishment on journalists, broadcast stations, media houses and media practitioners in Nigeria.”

In a statement on Sunday, SERAP said: “the complaint, addressed to the Chairperson of the Commission Mr Solomon Ayele Dersso, and Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Ms Jamesina Essie L. King, is brought pursuant to Articles 55 and 56 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Rule 100 of the Rules of Procedure of the African Commission.”

The complaint followed the move to push through two repressive bills to amend the National Broadcasting Act, and to amend the Nigeria Press Council Act. The bills are reportedly sponsored by Chairman, House Committee on Information, Mr Segun Odebunmi (PDP, Oyo State).

Dated June 26, 2021, and signed by its Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP said: “The push by the Nigerian government and the National Assembly to support and pass the two anti-media bills is unlawful, as passing the bills would be contrary to the country’s obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the right to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom under articles 1 and 9 of the African Charter.”

According to the rights group, “these anti-media bills are the latest threats to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom in the country. The bills are not in keeping with the provisions of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which supplements articles 1 and 9 of the African Charter.”

SERAP said: “the Commission has the power to request Provisional Measures from the Nigerian government and National Assembly under Rule 100 of the Rules of Procedure to prevent irreparable harm and threats to human rights including freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom as urgently as the situation demands.”

The complaint, read in part: “The bills include retrogressive provisions that threaten human rights, including freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom, and could criminalize reporting and give the government overly broad powers and oversight over journalists, broadcast stations, media houses and media practitioners.”

“If passed into laws, the bills would be used by those in power to intimidate and harass their critics, and to stifle freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom. The bills would have a chilling effect on the media thereby inducing some measure of self-censorship.”

“Media freedom, which is an aspect of the right to freedom of expression, is now generally recognised as an indispensable element of democracy. The mass media promotes the free flow of information, which enables citizens to participate in a meaningful and informed manner in the democratic process.”

“The actions by the Nigerian government and National Assembly are contrary to Articles 1 and 9 of the African Charter, and have thereby violated Nigeria’s positive obligation under Article 1 to recognise the rights, duties and freedoms and to adopt legislative or other measures to give effect to them.”

“SERAP regularly relies on the media to carry out its mandate in the promotion of transparency and accountability and respect for socio-economic rights of Nigerians.”

“The Nigerian government and National Assembly are directly responsible for pushing the bills that would gag the media and impose harsh punishment on journalists, broadcast stations, media houses and media practitioners in the country, action in violation of the African Charter, and therefore also in violation of Article 1 of the Charter.”

“Nigerians, broadcast stations, media houses and media practitioners in the country face a real and immediate risk of violation of their rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom if the anti-media bills are not urgently withdrawn.”

“The Nigerian government and National Assembly have failed to produce any evidence that the two bills are necessary or lawful, and in the absence of such, SERAP asks the Commission to order the immediate withdrawal of the bills by Nigerian authorities.”

“The media also serves as a watchdog by scrutinising and criticising public officials over the way they manage public affairs and public resources. In the performance of these functions, the media’s debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open. Speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.”

“A free press is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy, one in which journalists are both benefactors and beneficiaries of human rights and carrying out their professional duties to inform their communities and enable democratic participation.”

“Individual journalists cannot do their jobs if the institution of the press is compromised or if the legal protections for that institution are subject to approvals by political authorities.”

“The exhaustion of domestic remedies requirements set out in Article 56(5) of the African Charter has been met. There are no effective or sufficient local remedies available to the Complainant.”

“Nigerian courts do not entertain cases on the legality of anti-media and anti-human rights bills. Also, one of the lawmakers pushing the bills Mr Odebunmi Olusegun has reportedly boasted that ‘No court will stop us from passing the bills. Requiring SERAP to exhaust domestic remedies in such circumstances would be a mockery of justice.”

“Under the bills, the National Broadcasting Commission can shut down TV and radio stations “in the public interest” and the press code must be approved by the Minister of Information. The overly broad definition of public interest opens the door for the Nigerian government to crackdown on freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.”

“The bills would also allow the Nigerian government to jail journalists, fine newspapers up to N10m naira ($20,000) or close them for up to a year if they publish “fake” news. Under the bills, journalists could be held liable for the offence committed by their organisations and can be made to pay heavy fines.”

SERAP, therefore, urged the commission to request the following provisional measures from the Nigerian government and the National Assembly:

1.Immediately withdraw the oppressive bills to gag the media. The first is the bill to amend the National Broadcasting Act, and the second, is the bill to amend the Nigeria Press Council Act.

2.Immediately end harassment and intimidation of journalists, broadcast stations, media houses and media practitioners in Nigeria, and to respect the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom, Unless the African Commission urgently intervenes in this case, there is a risk of irreversible denial of the Complainant’s and Nigerians’ rights, which in turn will render nugatory the resolutions and declarations by the African Commission on freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

3.Give assurances that they will not support and pass the anti-media bills being pushed by Nigerian authorities. The Nigerian authorities should also give assurances that they will fully implement the resolutions and declarations on freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom in the country.

4.Undertake a prompt review of Nigerian legal framework and administrative practices on freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom to ensure their consistency and compatibility with the African Charter, and resolutions and declarations by the African Commission. Pending this, the Nigerian government should take concrete steps to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom, and ensure that journalists and media practitioners are able to carry out their work freely, without any intimidation and harassment.

SERAP Sues FG, Lai Mohammed Over Repressive Directive Asking Broadcasters To Stop Using Twitter

SERAP Threatens To Sue UI, AAUA Over Increased Fees
A logo of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

 

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.”

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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[1] & [6][b] and 36[1] 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[1] & [6][b], 36 and 44[1] 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[1][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[1], 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.

#TwitterBan: SERAP Drags FG To ECOWAS Court

SERAP Threatens To Sue UI, AAUA Over Increased Fees
SERAP has dragged the Nigerian Government To ECOWAS Court over the recent #TwitterBan

 

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians have dragged the Federal Government to the ECOWAS court over the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.

In the suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21 filed on Tuesday before the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja, SERAP and the concerned Nigerians are seeking: “an order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing its suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and subjecting anyone including media houses, broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria, to harassment, intimidation, arrest and criminal prosecution, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”

Following the deletion of a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed last week announced the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.

The government has also threatened to arrest and prosecute anyone using Twitter in the country, while the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has asked all broadcast stations to suspend the patronage of Twitter.

In the suit filed by Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana SAN, the Plaintiffs contend that “if this application is not urgently granted, the Federal Government will continue to arbitrarily suspend Twitter and threaten to impose criminal and other sanctions on Nigerians, telecommunication companies, media houses, broadcast stations and other people using Twitter in Nigeria, the perpetual order sought in this suit might be rendered nugatory.”

The suit, read in part: “The suspension of Twitter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter and other social media platforms to assess government policies, expose corruption, and criticize acts of official impunity by the agents of the Federal Government.

“The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censor or restraints, and to inform public opinion. The public also has a corresponding right to receive media output.

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and the full enjoyment of this right is central to achieving individual freedom and to developing democracy. It is not only the cornerstone of democracy, but indispensable to a thriving civil society.

“The arbitrary action by the Federal Government and its agents have negatively impacted millions of Nigerians who carry on their daily businesses and operational activities on Twitter. The suspension has also impeded the freedom of expression of millions of Nigerians, who criticize and influence government policies through the microblogging app.

“The suspension of Twitter is arbitrary, and there is no law in Nigeria today permitting the prosecution of people simply for peacefully exercising their human rights through Twitter and other social media platforms.

“The suspension and threat of prosecution by the Federal Government constitute a fundamental breach of the country’s international human rights obligations including under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.

“The suspension 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.

“A lot of Nigerians at home and abroad rely on Twitter coverage of topical issues of public interest to access impartial, objective and critical information about ideas and views on how the Nigerian government is performing its constitutional and international human rights obligations.

“The implication of the decline in freedom of expression in Nigeria is that the country is today ranked alongside countries hostile to human rights and media freedom such as Afghanistan, Chad, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Colombia.

SERAP and the concerned Nigerians are therefore asking the ECOWAS Court of Justice for the following reliefs:

A declaration that the action of the Defendant and its agents in suspending the operation of Twitter or any other social media and microblogging application without an order of a competent court of jurisdiction is unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

A declaration that the act of the Defendant in mandating its agent to commence and continue to regulate the social media in Nigeria amounts to restriction and censorship, thus violating Nigeria’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

A declaration that the act of the Defendant and its agents in suspending the operation of Twitter or any other social media and microblogging application in Nigeria without any offence known to law is incompatible with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations, and are therefore null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility.

A declaration that the directive by the Defendant, through the National Broadcasting Commission, directing and ‘advising’ broadcast stations to deactivate their Twitter accounts and discontinue its use is a breach of the citizens’ right to freedom of expression, access to information as well as media freedom, and therefore, null and void.

A declaration that the act of the defendant to frequently threaten Nigerians and other people who use Twitter and/or other social microblogging applications in Nigeria with criminal prosecution and the actual act of suspending the operations of Twitter in Nigeria, violates the principle that there is no punishment without law, and the right to fair hearing, and therefore, null and void.

An order setting aside the suspension, ban, sanction or other punishments whatsoever imposed on Twitter, Nigerians, media houses, broadcast stations and any social media service providers by the Defendant and its agents.
An order directing the Defendant and its agents to immediately revoke, withdraw and/or rescind their suspension or ban of Twitter and/or any other social media service provider(s) in Nigeria in line with Nigeria’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Revised ECOWAS Treaty 1993.

An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendant and its agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions and other punishment including criminal prosecution or doing anything whatsoever to harass Twitter, broadcast stations, Nigerians and other people and any social media service provider(s), and media houses who are Twitter users.

Such further orders the Honorable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of this suit.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the interim application and the substantive suit.

SERAP Asks Commonwealth To Sanction Nigeria Over #TwitterBan, Repression

 

 

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an Urgent Appeal to Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, urging her to “apply the Commonwealth Charter to hold the Nigerian government to account over the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and the resulting repression of human rights particularly the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom, as well as a flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”

The organization asked Ms. Scotland to “urgently consider recommending the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth to the Heads of Government, the Commonwealth Chair-in-office, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as Head of the Commonwealth to push the government to take concrete measures to respect and promote the Commonwealth’s values of human rights, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.”

In the Urgent Appeal dated 5 June 2021 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “The Nigerian government has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not committed to protecting human rights. The Commonwealth should take a clear stand to ensure accountability of institutions, freedom of expression and access to information in Nigeria.”

SERAP said: “Nigerians can only freely participate in the democratic processes and shape the society in which they live if these fundamental human rights are fully and effectively-respected, protected, and promoted.”

READ ALSO: FG Didn’t ‘Temporarily’ Ban Twitter Just For Deleting Buhari’s Tweets – Presidency

A photo combination of SERAP and President Muhammadu Buhari

 

According to SERAP, “The suspension has the character of collective punishment and is antithetical to the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international obligations. Nigerian authorities would seem to be suppressing people’s access to Twitter to exploit the shutdown to cover up allegations of corruption, abuses, and restrict freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.”

The Urgent Appeal, copied to Mr. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations; and Ms. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, read in part: “The Nigerian government has also called for the prosecution of those who violate its order suspending Twitter operations in Nigeria. This order for the prosecution of Twitter users violates the legal rule that there should be no punishment without law.”

“The principle that only the law can define a crime and prescribe a penalty (nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege) is a fundamental part of Nigerian constitutional jurisprudence.”

“The Commonwealth Charter recognises the right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression and access to information, which apply both offline and online.”

“Respect for Commonwealth values is essential for citizens to trust Commonwealth institutions. The Commonwealth ought to take a strong stand for the protection of human rights, transparency, and the rule of law in Nigeria, principles which are fundamental to the Commonwealth’s integrity, functioning, and effectiveness of its institutions.”

“Allowing citizens to freely exercise their human rights including freedom of expression and access to information without threat of reprisal or prosecution would enable them to contribute to society on issues of transparency, accountability, good governance, integrity, and human rights.”

“Nigerian government has a legal responsibility under the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and international human rights treaties including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect, protect and promote freedom of expression, access to information, and to ensure a safe and enabling environment for people to enjoy these rights.”

“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria demonstrates the authorities’ determination to suppress all forms of peaceful dissent by the Nigerian people. There are well-founded fears that the human rights situation in Nigeria will deteriorate even further if urgent action is not taken to address it.”

“According to our information, the Nigerian government on Friday 4 June, 2021 unlawfully ordered all internet service providers to suspend Twitter in Nigeria. The suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria followed the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweets, which according to Twitter ‘violated the Twitter Rules.’”

“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is taking place against the background of repression of the civic space and harassment of media houses, and journalists who are targeted simply for performing their professional duty.”

“The suspension of Twitter has seriously undermined transparency and accountability in government. The lack of transparency undermines the rule of law and Nigerians’ ability to participate in their own government.”

“Lack of transparency and accountability, and the absence of the rule of law in Nigeria have contributed hugely to denying Nigerians their fundamental human rights. People have been targeted simply for using Twitter and peacefully exercising their fundamental human rights.”

SERAP, therefore, urged the Commonwealth to:

1. Publicly condemn the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and put pressure on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the unlawful suspension;

2. Urge the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to respect freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom, as well as promote transparency and accountability, and the rule of law;

3. Urge the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to withdraw the threat to prosecute Nigerians simply for peacefully exercising their rights through Twitter

4. Establish a mechanism to visit Nigeria to monitor and report on violations of Nigerians’ right to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom, absence of transparency and accountability, and persistent disregard for the rule of law, and to get to the root of the facts and circumstances of such abuses, with a view to ensuring full accountability. Such mechanism would be the right response from the Commonwealth to protect the integrity of the institutions and ensure compliance by members to the Commonwealth values as enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter and declarations

Rescind Suspension Of Twitter In Nigeria Or Face Legal Action, SERAP Tells Buhari

A photo combination of SERAP and President Muhammadu Buhari

 

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has condemned the “illegal and unconstitutional suspension of Twitter’s Operations in Nigeria,” and called on “the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately rescind the suspension within 48 hours or face legal action.”

The Federal Government today announced that it has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria. This was announced by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, according to a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Segun Adeyemi.

But SERAP in a statement by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is a blatant violation of Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information. The suspension has the character of collective punishment and is contrary to Nigeria’s international obligations. President Buhari must immediately rescind this unconstitutional suspension. We will see in court if the suspension is not rescinded within 48 hours.”

READ ALSO: FG Says It Has Indefinitely Suspended Twitter Operations In Nigeria

The statement, read in part: “Suspending Twitter in Nigeria would deny Nigerians’ access to information, and disrupt the free exchange of ideas and the ability of individuals to connect with one another and associate peacefully on matters of shared concern. It would also seriously undermine the ability of Nigerians to promote transparency and accountability in the country, and to participate in their own government.”

“We call on the Nigerian authorities to guarantee the constitutionally and internationally recognized human rights of Nigerians including online. Deletion of President Buhari’s tweets should never be used as a pretext to suppress the civic space and undermine Nigerians’ fundamental human rights.”

SERAP Asks Buhari To End Disobedience To Rule Of Law

A photo combination of SERAP and President Muhammadu Buhari

 

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to end the deteriorating state of rule of law in the country. 

SERAP made the call on Sunday via a statement issued by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare.

“Use the sixth anniversary of his government in power as an opportunity to halt Nigeria’s backsliding from constitutional and international obligations, reverse a steady deterioration of the rule of law and persistent breach of human rights, including the rights to a corruption-free society, and to life and security of Nigerians,” the organization noted.

“We urge you to publicly give an assurance that you and your government would end the worsening rule of law crisis, obey court judgments, genuinely combat grand corruption, and address the systematic and egregious violations of Nigerians’ right to life and security in several parts of the country.”

The call followed the recent celebration of the sixth administration of President Buhari.

Buhari had swept to victory on three cardinal promises – tackling insecurity, fixing the economy, and fight corruption.

On Friday, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said Nigerians would appreciate this administration better at its expiration in 2023.

But SERAP expressed serious concern over what it describes as the continuous attacks on the rule of law.

“We are gravely concerned about persistent attacks on the rule of law. Millions of people are falling into preventable poverty and live in a state of insecurity,” SERAP said.

“This government’s effort to use anniversary celebrations to deflect attention from its record of assault on the rule of law isn’t going to work. Instead, it should use the occasion to create a rule of law-friendly environment that would make Nigerians safer.”

According to SERAP: “Systematically breaching the rule of law is not a sign of strength. Your administration should urgently comply with Nigeria’s constitutional and international obligations to respect the rule of law, if it is not to leave behind a legacy of impunity and attacks on the rule of law, and ultimately, on the system of protection of human rights after your tenure in 2023.”

The letter, read in part: “Should your government fail and/or refuse to urgently implement the recommended measures, SERAP would approach the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union to invoke their charters and treaties to restore the rule of law and human rights in Nigeria.”

“Attacks on the rule of law have made it harder for your administration to fulfil your oft-repeated promises to combat corruption, and to protect Nigerians’ right to life and security.”

“SERAP is seriously concerned that a culture of attacks on the rule of law has adversely affected the functioning of the country’s judiciary, undermined the integrity and authority of our courts, and reduced their ability to function effectively as the fundamental safeguard of rule of law in the country.”

“SERAP believes that respect for the rule of law and human rights is vital if your administration is to be able to effectively and satisfactorily address the growing poverty, inequality, and insecurity across the country.”

“SERAP hopes that the next two years will show your administration’s commitment to consistently uphold democracy, the rule of law, human rights, including the right to a corruption-free society, and the right to life and security.”

“The rule of law crisis in the past six years is illustrated by your government’s persistent failure to obey decisions of Nigerian courts; failure to consistently combat corruption and push for transparency in asset declarations by high-ranking government officials, and the failure to protect Nigerians’ right to life and security.”

“Persistent disobedience of court judgments by your administration represents a systemic threat to the rule of law, as this has infringed upon judicial independence and undermined legal certainty, as well as exacerbated the “chilling effect” on victims’ access to justice and effective remedies.”

“Nigeria’s rule of law breakdown, the systematic breaching of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international obligations have also seriously undermined Nigeria’s leadership role within the ECOWAS, the African Union, and generally in the comity of nations.”

“Ensuring full and effective respect for the rule of law and human rights would send a strong signal of your commitment to uphold the country’s constitutional guarantees and international obligations, and that you are ready to do what is needed to halt the backsliding from these guarantees and obligations.”

“The judgments your government is yet to obey include at least seven judgments obtained by SERAP. The first is the judgment by Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari ordering your government to tell Nigerians about the stolen asset it allegedly recovered to date, with details of the amounts recovered.”

“The second judgment, by Justice Mohammed Idris [as he then was], ordered your government to publish details on the spending of stolen funds recovered since the return of democracy in 1999, while the third judgment, by Justice Chuka Austine Obiozor, ordered your government to publish details of payments of billions of naira to allegedly corrupt electricity contractors and companies since 1999.”

“The fourth judgment, by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo, ordered your government to challenge the legality of states’ life pension laws and to recover pensions already collected by ex-governors now serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly.”

“The fifth judgment, by Justice Mohammed Idris ordered your government to prosecute principal officials and lawmakers suspected of padding and stealing N481bn from the 2016 budget. The court also ordered publication of the report on the alleged 2016 budget padding.”

“The sixth judgment, by the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja, ordered the Nigerian authorities to provide free and quality education to all Nigerian children without discrimination. The seventh judgment, also by the ECOWAS Court, ordered the Federal Government to hold all oil companies operating in the Niger Delta to account for oil pollution and associated human rights violations, and to pay compensation.”

“Another court order that is yet to be complied with is the order for the release of Islamic Movement of Nigeria leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah, from unlawful detention, obtained by human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana.”

“Nigeria’s democracy ought to have as its foundation respect for human rights and the rule of law. Treating the decisions of Nigerian courts as not binding is antithetical to any contemporary notion of the rule of law and democracy, and clearly counter-productive to the fight against corruption.”

“Democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law, and obeying decisions of the courts, combating corruption, and ending growing insecurity in the country are closely connected with the existence and consolidation of democracy, good governance and development.”

“SERAP also urges you to immediately instruct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN to enforce all outstanding court judgments against your government since May 2015, including those highlighted above.”

Kolawole Oluwadare

SERAP Deputy Director

 

 

 

SERAP Asks Buhari To Disclose Spending Details Of Recovered $700m Ibori Loot

SERAP Threatens To Sue UI, AAUA Over Increased Fees
A logo of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)

 

 

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed to disclose spending details of the $700 million looted funds reportedly recovered by the Federal Government in the past four years.

The agency is also asking for the location of projects completed with the money, as well as details of the contractors that executed the projects.

SERAP urged the President to “Direct Mrs. Ahmed to disclose how the government plans to spend the returned £4.2m Ibori loot, including details of planned capital expenditure, and whether there is any plan to ensure that the money and any future returned Ibori loot would be spent to achieve justice and effective remedies for victims of corruption in Delta State.”

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, had last week stated that the Federal Government recovered over $700m looted funds, disclosed the return of £4.2m linked to James Ibori, and the plan to repatriate more than £80m of Ibori loot.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Receives £4.2m Ibori Loot

In the Freedom of Information request dated 22 May 2021 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Disclosing spending details of the recovered $700m loot, and spending plans for the £4.2m Ibori loot would promote transparency, accountability, and be entirely consistent with your constitutional oath of office to ensure the well-being of Nigerians.”

SERAP said: “Rather than borrowing another N2.3trillion ($6.18bn) external loan, SERAP urges you to ensure transparent and accountable use of recovered loot to fund the 2021 budget, improve the country’s economy, and address widespread poverty. This would promote a just and honest government, and ensure that recovered loot is not re-stolen at the expense of the poor.”

The letter, read in part: “SERAP, therefore, urges you to withdraw your latest request seeking the approval of the National Assembly to borrow another $6.1billion in the public interests, and to ensure accountable fiscal stewardship of Nigeria’s money for both current and future generations.”

“Providing the information and widely publishing the details would also enhance your government’s authority and credibility to demand the return of more looted public funds from abroad, as well as facilitate the repatriation of potentially billions of dollars still stashed in rich countries.”

“Your government has a legal obligation under the UN Convention against Corruption to ensure that recovered stolen public money is not embezzled again, and that any returned loot is spent for the benefit of the real victims of corruption—the ordinary Nigerians whose commonwealth has been stolen, and who continue to suffer the consequences of grand corruption.”

“SERAP notes that the consequences of corruption are felt by poor citizens on a daily basis. Corruption exposes them to additional costs to pay for health, water, education and administrative services. Another consequence of corruption is the growing inequality in the country, where the privileged few have access to all public resources, while the vast majority of citizens are deprived of access to public services.”

“Our requests are brought in the public interest, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended]; the Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s international obligations including under the UN Convention against Corruption and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.”

“Our requests are also entirely in line with the judgment by Justice Mohammed Idris ordering your government to widely publish up-to-date information on recovered stolen funds since the return of civilian rule in 1999. Your government has refused to obey the judgment, despite publicly promising to do so.”

“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.”

“As a signatory to the UN Convention against Corruption and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Nigeria has committed to ensure transparent and accountable management of public resources, and unhindered access to public information. These commitments ought to be fully upheld and respected.”

“According to our information, Mr Malami recently reportedly disclosed that your government has recovered over $700 million looted funds from the United States, the United Kingdom, Bailiwick of Jersey, Switzerland, and Ireland in the past four years.”

“Mr. Malami also disclosed the return of £4.2 million linked to James Ibori, former Delta state governor, and his associates. Your government is also reportedly working towards securing the repatriation of more than £80 million linked to Ibori.”