…Says It’s an Infraction on Freedom of Expression Leading media advocacy group, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), has condemned the apparent surreptitious blocking of three websites associated with #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, describing the action as a brazen and unjustifiable violation of the right to freedom of expression of the operators of the websites and other
…Says It’s an Infraction on Freedom of Expression
Leading media advocacy group, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), has condemned the apparent surreptitious blocking of three websites associated with #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, describing the action as a brazen and unjustifiable violation of the right to freedom of expression of the operators of the websites and other Nigerians who get information from the platforms.
The websites, www.feministcoalition2020.com, www.endsars.com, and www.radioisiaq.com, became inaccessible from Nigeria over the past few days but have remained accessible from other countries, a clear indication that they are being blocked only in Nigeria.
It follows the pattern of raging backlash on #EndSARS campaigners by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, that have exploited the use of government agencies and hirelings to get back at prominent leaders of the protests, called to push for an end to Police brutality and harassment.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had in October flagged 20 accounts said to be linked to the #EndSARS campaigners while a suspected hired gun has also instituted a court case against some of the leading lights of the protests demanding for compensation on his property he claimed was damaged after the 12 day protests which held across the country, were hijacked by hoodlums.
In a statement in Lagos, MRA contended that the blocking of the websites was illegal and a clear violation of the norms and standards established under international human rights law for the application of any limitation on the right to freedom of expression, particularly as the blocking of websites is not authorized by any law in Nigeria, no legitimate basis for such blocking has been established while the wholesale blocking of the websites cannot be a proportionate response to any offensive content that any of them may have published.
Ms Chioma Nwaodike, head of MRA’s Legal Department, noted in the statement that as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Nigeria is bound by Article 19 of the instrument which requires that any restriction on the right to freedom of expression must be prescribed by law, pursue a legitimate aim, as well as necessary and proportional.
Ms Nwaodike argued that even if the operators of the websites have committed any offence, by blocking the websites without reference to the courts or the due process of law, the Nigerian government has constituted itself into an accuser, judge and executioner in violation of the rights to freedom of expression and fair hearing, guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution as well as regional and international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a party.
She accused the Nigerian Government of “going down a frightening path by adopting such a highhanded measure of maintaining an information blackout in a supposedly democratic country in an effort to prevent citizens and other members of the public from receiving or having access to information that is critical of the government or that portrays the government in negative light,” saying that, “this is a usual feature of governments that are leaning towards extreme dictatorship.”
She said if the Government believes that any person or organization has committed an offense under any law in Nigeria, the proper thing for it to do is to bring the person or organization before a court of competent jurisdiction and not to resort to taking the laws into its own hands in total disregard for the constitutional rights of its citizens and the rule of law.
Ms Nwaodike called on the Nigerian Government to uphold its international commitments as a State Party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the ICCPR, and urged it to commit itself to following due process of the law.
Following a court order by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the accounts of those perceived as leaders of the EndSARS movement were ordered to be frozen at the following banks: Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, First Bank Nigeria, Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank of Africa and Zenith Bank.
A Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Ahmed Mohammed granted the request of the CBN filed on October 20 in suit FHC/ABJ/CS/1384/2020 to freeze the accounts of 19 individuals and a company known as Gatefield Nigeria Limited for participating at the #EndSARS protests organized to end police brutality in Nigeria.
The affected activists include Bolatito Racheal Oduala, Chima David Ibebunjoh, Mary Doose Kpengwa, Saadat Temitope Bibi, Bassey Victor Israel, Wisdom Busaosowo Obi, Nicholas Ikhalea Osazele, Ebere Idibie, and Akintomide Lanre Yusuf,
Others are Uhuo Ezenwanyi Promise, Mosopefoluwa Odeseye, Adegoke Pamilerin Yusuf, Umoh Grace Ekanem, Babatunde Victor Segun, Mulu Louis Teghenan, Mary Oshifowora, Winifred Akpevweoghene Jacob, Victor Solomon and Idunu A. Williams.
The order of Justice Mohammed read as follows:
“A mandatory order is made empowering the plaintiff/applicant to direct the head office of Access Bank of Nigeria Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc and Zenith Bank Plc to freeze forthwith all transactions on the 20 bank accounts listed for a period of 90 days pending the outcome of investigation and inquiry currently being conducted by the Central Bank of Nigeria. It is, however, directed that the 90-day freezing order, when it lapses, may be renewed upon good cause shown by the applicant. It is also directed that any person, whether artificial or natural, that is affected by this order may apply to the court to have his grievance or complaint heard by the court. The suit is adjourned till February 4, 2021.”
Also an Activist, Mr Kenechukwu Okeke, has filed a criminal complaint before a Chief Magistrate’s court in Abuja against 50 persons for their alleged roles in the 12 day #EndSARS protests.
The largely peaceful protests were later hijacked by hoodlums believed to have been sponsored by the state which later resulted in wanton destruction of public and private properties.
It was climaxed by the shooting of protesters at Lekki Toll Plaza by soldiers, leading to the death of 15 protesters with scores suffering severe injuries, according to global rights group, Amnesty International. But the state seriously disputes this claim though President Muhammadu Buhari reveals that 69 persons comprising 51 civilians, 11 policemen and 7 soldiers, were killed during the nationwide protests..
Okeke alleged that during the riot, his properties were destroyed and the defendants who promoted the #EndSARS protests must be brought to justice.
Those listed as defendants include Musician Damini Ogulu aka Burna Boy, David Adeleke popularly known as Davido, Folarin Falana popularly known as Falz; and social media comedians, Debo Adebayo aka Mr Macaroni, and Maryam Akpaokagi aka Taoma.
Other musicians sued include Peter and Paul Okoye, Innocent Idibia aka Tuface, Bankole Wellington popularly known as Banky W, Tiwa Savage, Michael Ajereh aka Don Jazzy and Yemi Alade.
Apart from musicians, others listed as defendants include Senior Pastor, Daystar Christian Centre, Pastor Sam Adeyemi; activist, Aisha Yesufu; ex-Super Eagles legend, Kanu Nwankwo; a former Director-General, Bureau for Public Sector Reform, Dr Joe Abah; journalist, Kiki Mordi, and actors, Yul Edochie and Uche Jombo.
Others are social media influencers – Feyikemi Abudu, Olorunrinu Oduala, Pamilerin Adegoke, Japhet Omojuwa, Ayo Sogunro and Deji Adeyanju were also joined in the suit.
The case was instituted pursuant to sections 88, 109(a), 110(1)(c) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
In his supporting affidavit, Okeke said the defendants played active roles in the #EndSARS protest which later became violent.
It read in part, “That the 1st to 50th accused persons between the 3rd day of October 2020 and the 28th day of October 2020, using Twitter, an Internet web source with URL https://www.twitter.com within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did conspire amongst themselves to commit misdemeanour, to wit, promoting and acting in such a manner, with intent to assist in the promotion of #EndSARS and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 97(2) of the Penal Code Act, C53 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“That the 1st to 50th accused persons with intent to carry out some common purpose, assemble in such a manner or being assembled under the composition of #EndSARS as to cause persons in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to fear on reasonable grounds that such assembly needlessly and without any reasonable occasion may provoke other persons tumultuously to disturb the peace.
“Properties belonging to the complainant were egregiously destroyed by some riotous and tumultuous persons instigated and incited by the 1st to 50th accused persons.”
Okeke said, “I shall instigate a private criminal prosecution against all the alleged perpetrators and coordinators of the #EndSARS riots on Twitter. The nation bled, lives lost, and properties worth billions destroyed as a result of the sheer recklessness of some persons.
“Having initiated criminal proceedings against the #EndSARS riots promoters at exactly 1052hrs WAT, 09/11/2020, we shall ensure that same is diligently prosecuted in the interest of defence, public safety and public order. The Federal Republic of Nigeria is country of laws.”
But Daystar Christian Centre Founder, Pastor Adeyemi has said the suit filed against him and 49 others by Okeke is frivolous. Reacting to the suit on his twitter handle, Adeyemi said it was frivolous.
He asked: “Who sent this guy to file this frivolous law suit?”