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Buhari gets 7 days to release copy of agreement with Twitter

President Muhammadu Buhari has been given 7 days ultimatum to release a copy of the agreement recently signed with Twitter or face legal action.

The ultimatum was issued by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Sunday.

SERAP urged President Muhammadu Buhari to use his good offices and leadership position to “direct the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to provide our organization with a copy of the agreement recently signed with Twitter, Inc, and to widely publish the details of any such agreement.”

SERAP also urged him to “direct Alhaji Lai Mohammed to clarify the manner and scope in which the agreement with Twitter will be enforced, including whether the agreement incorporates respect for human rights, consistent with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and international obligations.”

In the letter dated 15 January 2022 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Publishing the agreement would enable Nigerians to scrutinize it, seek legal remedies as appropriate, and ensure that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter are not used as pretexts to suppress legitimate discourse.”

SERAP said: “Publishing the agreement with Twitter would also promote transparency, accountability, and help to mitigate threats to Nigerians’ rights online, as well as any interference with online privacy in ways that deter the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression.”

According to SERAP, “Nigerians are entitled to their constitutionally and internationally recognized human rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, privacy, peaceful assembly and association, as well as public participation both offline and online.”

The letter, read in part: “Any agreement with social media companies must meet constitutional and international requirements, including legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy.”

“This means that any conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter must meet the requirements of regular legal processes and limit government discretion. Secretly agreed conditions will fail these fundamental requirements.”

“The government has a duty to demonstrate that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter would not threaten or violate the enjoyment of Nigerians’ human rights online, and that the conditions are in pursuit of a legitimate goal in a democratic society.”

“SERAP is concerned that the operation and enforcement of the agreement may be based on broadly worded restrictive laws, which may be used as pretexts to suppress legitimate discourse, interfere with online privacy, and deter the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression.”

“Section 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 guarantee the right to hold opinions without interference, and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and through any medium.”

“The Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties impose duties on your government to ensure enabling environments for freedom of expression, privacy rights and other human rights, and to protect their exercise.”

“While human rights law requires States to prohibit ‘advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’, States must still satisfy the cumulative conditions of legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy in any agreement with social media companies.”

“Your government has a legal obligation to promote universal Internet access, media diversity and independence, as well as ensure that any agreements with Twitter and other social media companies are not used to impermissibly restrict these fundamental human rights.

“By the combined reading of the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria, the Freedom of Information Act 2011, and human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party, there are transparency obligations imposed on your government to widely publish the agreement and details of the conditions upon which the suspension of Twitter was lifted.”

“It is stated in the statement by the Federal Government that Twitter has reached an agreement with the government ‘to manage prohibited publication in line with Nigerian laws.’ We would be grateful for clarifications on the definition of ‘prohibited information,’ and the specific applicable Nigerian laws in the context of the agreement.”

“It is also stated in the statement by the Federal Government that Twitter has agreed to ‘act with a respectful acknowledgement of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history on which such legislation has been built.’ We would be grateful for clarifications on the specific and applicable Nigerian laws, national culture and history upon which the operation and enforcement of the agreement will be based.”

The letter was copied to Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation, and Minister of Justice.

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