A Nigerian rights group has filed a lawsuit to force authorities to publish an agreement reached with Twitter in January to lift a block on the social media company. The rights group says the failure by Nigerian authorities to publish all the details of the agreement raises concerns about citizens’ rights and censorship.
A Nigerian rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), said this week that authorities ignored its request last month to publish the agreement.
The lawsuit seeks a court order compelling authorities to publish details of the agreement reached with Twitter before the company restored access to the site in Nigeria.
Nigeria suspended Twitter last June for deleting a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened regional separatists and referred to the 1960s war in the Biafra region.
Nigerian authorities lifted the ban in January, boasting that its new engagement with the company will create jobs and generate revenue for the country.
But rights groups are concerned the terms of agreement may include clauses that violate the rights of citizens, says Kolawole Oluwadare, a deputy director at SERAP.
“If this agreement has the tendency to impact on the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression, it’s important that Nigerians have access to the agreement, scrutinize the terms and critique it if necessary, because of the effect it will have on our ability to use Twitter freely,” said Oluwadare. “How are we sure that those terms do not necessarily affect even the rights to privacy? I’m talking about the access of Nigerian government to the data of Nigerians.”
Nigerian authorities are often accused of trying to stifle free speech.
In 2019, lawmakers considered a bill that sought to punish statements on social media deemed to diminish public confidence in the president or government officials. The bill never passed.
This week, Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed criticized Twitter and the Canadian government as having double standards citing the truckers protest against COVID-19 mandates in Canada.
“Twitter actively supported the EndSARS protesters and even raised funds,” said Mohammed. “These are the same entities that are now rushing to distance themselves from the protest in Canada and even denying them the use of their platforms.”
But Amnesty International spokesperson Seun Bakare has this to say: “International human rights laws are clear on standards that even platforms like Twitter and Facebook must uphold,” said Bakare. “They must uphold the fundamental tenets of freedom of expression, and access to information and they must not bend their rules just to please any government at all.”
Under its agreement with Twitter, Nigeria said the company agreed to be legally registered in the country, run a local office, appoint country representatives to interface with authorities, pay taxes and enroll officials in its partner support portals.
It remains unclear if Nigerian officials have the ability to monitor and block prohibited content.
An ECOWAS court of justice is scheduled to rule on SERAP’s lawsuit this week.