Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to enforce the judgment by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, compelling him to delete the offence of ‘insulting or stalking public officials online’ from the Cybercrime Act.
The group also appealed to the Nigerian leader to urgently send an executive bill to the National Assembly to repeal the unlawful provisions and reform all laws that are inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression and media liberty.
The ruling, delivered by the court last week in Accra, Ghana followed the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/09/19 brought by SERAP.
In the open letter dated April 2, 2022 and signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said the verdict was victory for many Nigerians, who continue to face harassment, intimidation and unfair prosecutions solely for peacefully exercising their human rights online.
“The provisions of Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act among others criminalise sending or causing to be sent an offensive, insulting or annoying message via a computer system or network. The offence is punishable including by a fine of up to N7,000,000 or imprisonment of up to three years or both,” it noted.
SERAP had argued that the Federal Government and several state governments have used the “vaguely worded provisions of the Act to trample on the rights to freedom of expression and information of bloggers, journalists, activists and social media users.”
In the judgment delivered by Justice Gberi-De Quattara (presiding judge), Justice Dupe Atoki (member) and Justice Keikura Bangura (member), the court agreed and ruled that Section 24 of the law in question “is inconsistent and incompatible with Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.”
The court, therefore, ordered the government to amend the contentious section in accordance with Nigerian obligations under Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In the correspondence copied to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the body said the “immediate enforcement and implementation of the judgment by your government will be a victory for the rule of law, the right to freedom of expression and media freedom online.”
This will improve citizens’ participation in their own government and provide an impetus for the anti-corruption fight.”
It added: “By implementing the judgment, your government will be demonstrating Nigeria’s leadership within the ECOWAS sub-region, and sending a powerful message to other countries to embrace the rule of law and human rights.”
SERAP observed that “Article 15(4) of the ECOWAS Treaty makes the ruling of the court binding on member-states, including Nigeria. Also, Article 19(2) of the 1991 Protocol provides that the decisions of the court shall be final and immediately enforceable.”
It stated: “Non-compliance with the judgment of the court can be sanctioned under Article 24 of the Supplementary Protocol of the ECOWAS Court of Justice and Article 77 of the ECOWAS Treaty.”
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