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Breaking: Online Publishers Sue FG Over Cybercrimes Act

The Online Publishers Association of Nigeria [OPAN]) has taken Federal Government of Nigeria to court over the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act 2015.

Since Nigeria’s cybercrime act was voted into law in May 2015, authorities have used the accusation of cyber stalking to harass and press charges against at least five bloggers who criticized politicians and businessmen online and through social media.

In the Affidavit In Support Of Originating Summons sworn by Austyn Ogannah, the 1st Plaintiff and the President of the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (“OPAN”), and the 2nd Plaintiff, the General Secretary of OPAN, and a direct victim of Section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention etc.) Act 2015, the subject-matter of this suit, OPAN contends that:
1. Section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act 2015 is NOT reasonably justifiable in a Democratic Society under Sections 39(3) and 45(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.

2. Section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act 2015 is NOT constitutional and valid by virtue of Sections 1(3) and 39(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.

This matter came up on 17th October 2018, before the Hon. Justice Aikawa.

The Court granted a Motion Ex Parte seeking leave to serve the Originating Summons on the Hon. Attorney General of the Federation in the FCT, Abuja.

The AGF having been served, the suit was thereafter adjourned to 23rd November, 2018 for mention.

SEE ALSO How Nigeria’s Cybercrime Law Is Being Used To Try To Muzzle The Press – By Peter Nkanga

The Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (“OPAN”) is an association incorporated under the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to promote the use of the New or Digital Media in Nigeria, by advancing the policies of high-quality online publishing with the advertising community, corporate organizations, the Press, government and the public.

On 15th May 2015, the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention etc.) Act took effect.

The law ostensibly aimed at regulating the increasingly digitalized media to curb resultant cybercrimes. By Section 24(1)(b) of the Act, it was declared a crime for any person to disseminate information through a computer, which he knows to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, insult, danger, etc to another.

However, OPAN stated that the provision which on the face appears harmless and well-intentioned, has been employed by governments, security agencies and high-profile individuals to intimidate and oppress Journalists, Bloggers and Public Speakers who constructively criticize the activities of government. The execution of the law has seen government bodies and high-profile individuals arrest and detain persons when ever in their opinion any criticism, analysis or publication offends them.

OPAN narrated that on 25th August, 2015, Seun Oloketuyi was arraigned before the Federal High Court, Lagos for contravention of Section 24(1)(b) of the Act. He was arraigned for cyber-stalking and defamation for a publication on his blog “Naijahottestgist” wherein he shared a story of an alleged illicit affair involving a top official of Fidelity Bank Plc.

Similarly, on 1st September, 2015, Chris Kehinde Nwandu, publisher of ‘Cknnigeria’ and President of the Guild of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria, was arrested for allegedly sharing the said ‘Naijahottesgist’ story on Facebook. He was arraigned two days later for ‘cyber-stalking’.

On 8th August, 2016, a Journalist, Abubakar Sadiq was arrested and detained for 36 hours by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for allegedly posting “offensive publications” against the Commission and its Staff. The EFCC in their press release stated that he was arrested for ‘cyber-stalking’ for a publication he posted on his blog, “Abusidiqu” which was thought critical of the EFCC Chairman.

On 20th August, 2016, a Journalist, Musa Babale Azare who uses Facebook and Twitter platforms to criticize the activities of Bauchi State Government was arrested in the FCT, Abuja and moved Bauchi State and detained by operatives of the Nigeria Police Force. He was accused of criticizing the State Governor, Muhammad Abdullahi Abubakar.

Musa Babalare Azare was shown a petition written by a law firm on behalf of six persons, including the Chief of Staff to the Bauchi State Government accusing him of ‘cyber-stalking’ the State Governor.

On 1st January, 2018, operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, arrested the 2nd Plaintiff and his sibling, Tim Elombah at Nnewi, Anambra State on allegations that they published an article critical of the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris. They were detained by SARS and finally arraigned before a Federal High Court, Abuja on 1st March, 2018.

Mr Ogannah stated that “Section 24(1)(b) of the Act is vague and ambiguous and is an easy tool by the State and high-profile persons to intimidate and oppress online journalists and to stifle open constructive criticism of governance, commercial activities and public conduct by Nigerians using the New or Digital Media.”

Stating that fair criticism is integral to the growth of democracy culture and good governance and the New Media, Mr Ogannah added that “Digital Media or ‘Social’ Media has become an important platform or medium for expression, dissemination and impartation of information and ideas the world over, hence OPAN instructed us to take out this Originating Summons to protect the constitutionally-guaranteed press freedom for this new platform for news and information dissemination.”

“Section 24(1)(b) of the Act is in excess of the legislative intent of curbing cybercrimes. I also verily believe that the provision is not reasonably justifiable in our democratic society being vague and capable of multiple interpretations and has only been a weapon against the right to freedom of expression and the press.

“The right to freedom of expression and the press can only be curtailed by a law reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. I also know that any person aggrieved over a libelous publication has a remedy in a civil action for defamation.”

He concluded that “it is in the interest of justice to strike down Section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act 2015.”

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