SERAP Urges Buhari to Enforce ECOWAS Court Judgement on Cybercrime Act

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By Adedapo Adesanya

President Muhammadu Buhari has been asked by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to enforce a judgment by the ECOWAS Court of Justice compelling his administration to delete the perceived offence of “insulting or stalking public officials online’ from the Cybercrime Act.”

SERAP said Mr Buhari should “urgently send an executive bill to the National Assembly to repeal the unlawful provisions, and reform all laws, which are inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression and media freedom.”

The judgment, delivered by the court last week in Accra, Ghana followed the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/09/19 brought by SERAP.

In a letter to the President, SERAP wants him to “direct Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to withdraw all pending charges of ‘insulting or stalking public officials online’ against activists, critics and journalists, and immediately ensure their release from unlawful detention,” noting that “those who have faced unfair prosecutions under the unlawful provisions receive adequate compensation.”

In the open letter dated April 2, 2022, and signed by SERAP deputy director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said, “This judgment is a 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 by a fine of up to N7 million or imprisonment of up to 3 years or both.

SERAP had argued before the ECOWAS Court that, “The Federal Government and several state governments have used the vaguely worded provisions of the Cybercrime Act to trample on the rights to freedom of expression and information of bloggers, journalists, activists, and social media users.”

In its judgment, the court agreed and ruled that “section 24 of Cybercrime Act 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 then ordered the federal government to “amend section 24 of the Cybercrime Prohibition Act in accordance with Nigerian obligations under Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

In the letter to President Buhari, the group 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.

“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.

“With the ECOWAS Court judgment, all federal and state authorities must now stop using the provisions of section 24 of the Cybercrime Act to target, harass, intimidate, arbitrarily arrest and detain and unfairly prosecute social media users, activists, and journalists who express views perceived to be critical of governments.”

It reminded the Nigerian government that “Article 15(4) of the ECOWAS Treaty makes the Judgment 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 warned that, “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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