Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court in Abuja asking for an order of perpetual injunction to restrain President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, from shutting down telecommunication networks in any part of the country.
Joined, as respondent, is the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). It would be recalled that the NCC recently ordered telecom operators to suspend all telecommunications networks in some states, including Zamfara, and at least 13 councils of Katsina State purportedly to check banditry.
In the suit, FHC/ABJ/CS/1323/2021, filed at the weekend by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Kehinde Oyewumi, the group wants the court to determine whether the shutdown of telecommunication networks in any part of Nigeria by the Buhari administration is unlawful, and a violation of the rights of access to correspondence, freedom of expression, information, and the press.
In the lawsuit, SERAP argued: “Large-scale shutdowns of communication networks are a form of collective punishment. Shutdowns exert significant chilling effects, with direct implications on participatory democracy, whose existence depends upon an active and informed citizenry capable of engaging with a range of ideas.”
According to the organisation, the Buhari administration has constitutional and international legal obligations to enable access to the Internet for all, as access to the Internet is inextricably linked to the exercise of freedom of expression and information.
The suit, which has been assigned to Justice Ahmed Mohammed at Court 4, is fixed for hearing on January 11, 2022.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has condemned the recent attack by the Presidency on SERAP.
According to the group, attempt by the Nigerian government to gag SERAP for holding authorities to account is yet another dimension of the escalating attacks on civil society organisations and human rights defenders in Nigeria.
In a statement, yesterday, Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International Country Director for Nigeria, said Nigerian authorities must stop resorting to smear campaigns whenever they are asked to be accountable to the people.