The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, has stated that the Commonwealth is “closely monitoring developments around suspension of Twitter, and allegations of repression of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, media freedom, as well as disregard for the rule of law in Nigeria.”
Ms Scotland said: “All Commonwealth member countries, including Nigeria, have obligations and commitments to uphold freedom of expression as one of the core values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter. This underscores a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments.”
The statement by the Commonwealth followed an Urgent Appeal by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) urging Ms Scotland to “apply the Commonwealth Charter to hold the Nigerian government to account over the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and the resulting repression of freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.”
This development was disclosed today by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare.
In the Urgent Appeal, SERAP had stated that: “The Nigerian government has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not committed to protecting human rights. The Commonwealth should take a clear stand to ensure accountability of institutions, freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in Nigeria.”
Responding, Ms Scotland in a letter sent to SERAP, said: “I write to acknowledge with thanks, receipt of your letter dated 5 June 2021 highlighting concerns about the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.”
The letter by the Commonwealth dated 22 July 2021, and signed on behalf of Ms Scotland by Roger Koranteng, Officer in Charge, Governance and Peace Directorate, read in part: “The Commonwealth Secretary-General has been following the developments in Nigeria very closely and she is engaging the relevant stakeholders.”
“Please be assured that the Secretariat will remain engaged with the authorities in Nigeria and encourage a speedy resolution of this matter.”
“All Commonwealth member countries [including Nigeria] have committed themselves to upholding freedom of expression as one of the core values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter, which underscores a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments.”
Kolawole Oluwadare said: “We are very delighted that our letter and the concerns that it raises have caught the attention of the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Given her public record for justice and human rights, we have absolutely no doubt that she will prevail on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to lift the unlawful suspension of Twitter, respect human rights, and obey the rule of law.”
“But it should never have reached this level, as the government has absolutely no justification to suspend Twitter in Nigeria. The Buhari administration ought to have complied with the Commonwealth Charter and other similar human rights standards as a matter of routine.”
SERAP’s Urgent Appeal dated 5 June, 2021, read in part: “Ms Scotland should urgently consider recommending the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth to the Heads of Government, the Commonwealth Chair-in-office, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as Head of the Commonwealth to push the government to take concrete measures to respect and promote the Commonwealth’s values of human rights, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.”
“Nigerians can only freely participate in the democratic processes and shape the society in which they live if these fundamental human rights are fully and effectively respected, protected and promoted.”
“The suspension has the character of collective punishment and is antithetical to the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international obligations. Nigerian authorities would seem to be suppressing people’s access to Twitter to exploit the shutdown to cover up allegations of corruption, abuses, and restrict freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.”
“The Nigerian government has also called for the prosecution of those who violate its order suspending Twitter operations in Nigeria. This order for prosecution of Twitter users violates the legal rule that there should be no punishment without law.”
“Respect for Commonwealth values is essential for citizens to trust Commonwealth institutions. The Commonwealth ought to take a strong stand for protection of human rights, transparency and the rule of law in Nigeria, principles which are fundamental to the Commonwealth’s integrity, functioning and effectiveness of its institutions.”
“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria demonstrates the authorities’ determination to suppress all forms of peaceful dissent by the Nigerian people. There are well-founded fears that the human rights situation in Nigeria will deteriorate even further if urgent action is not taken to address it.”
“According to our information, the Nigerian government on Friday 4 June, 2021 unlawfully ordered all internet service providers to suspend Twitter in Nigeria. The suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria followed the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweets, which according to Twitter ‘violated the Twitter Rules.’”
“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is taking place against the background of repression of the civic space and harassment of media houses, and journalists who are targeted simply for performing their professional duty.”
“The suspension of Twitter has seriously undermined transparency and accountability in government. The lack of transparency undermines the rule of law and Nigerians’ ability to participate in their own government.”
“Lack of transparency and accountability, and the absence of the rule of law in Nigeria have contributed hugely to denying Nigerians their fundamental human rights. People have been targeted simply for using Twitter and peacefully exercising their fundamental human rights.”
SERAP Deputy Director
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