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Reactions as OPAN Sues FG for Harassment and Detentions of Online Activities

Media practitioners today commended the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria [OPAN]) for taking the Federal Government of Nigeria to court over the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act 2015.

Excellent! I have been waiting for this, wrote Aziza Uko, Executive Editor | The Trent

According to a report by Freedom House, Internet freedom in Nigeria remained stagnant in the past year amidst an ongoing trend of intimidation and arrests. #netfreedom2017 http://freedomhou.se/2z3gwpb

The 2017 Country profile on Nigeria by the International Freedom Watchdog, titled ‘Manipulating Social Media to Undermine Democracy’, numerous bloggers, online journalists, and ordinary users were arrested for their online activities in the past year, most of whom were charged for “cyberstalking” under Section 24 of the cybercrime law, though no cases led to convictions.

The reports stated among others that:

Online journalists and internet users in Nigeria were subject to increasing extralegal harassment and intimidation for their activities (see Intimidation and Violence).

Numerous bloggers, online journalists, and ordinary users were arrested for their online activities in the past year, most of whom were charged for “cyberstalking” under Section 24 of the cybercrime law, though no cases have led to convictions:

In August 2016, blogger Abubakar Usman was arrested and held for two days for a report accusing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of corruption.

Musa Azare was also arrested by police in August after he allegedly criticized the Bauchi state governor on social media, though the governor himself demanded Azare’s release, citing his support for freedom of expression.

In September 2016, blogger Jamil Mubai was arrested for using Twitter to criticize the Katsina state governor’s purchase of coffins instead of paying the outstanding salaries of civil servants.

Also in September, State Security Service (SSS) agents arrested blogger Emenike Iroegbu, who runs the Abia Facts online outlet, for allegedly harassing Abia State officials in his articles.

In November 2016, SSS agents arrested activist Aku Obidinma for critical comments he posted on Facebook about the Deputy Governor of Imo state.

In February 2017, authorities in Kaduna State arrested Audu Maikori for “inciting” tweets about citizen killings by herdsmen in Southern Kaduna that had been proven false.34 Upon realization, Maikori apologized for tweeting the false information, but the authorities continued to carry out his arrest. Released a day later on bail, he was arrested again in March, reportedly for the same issue out of insistence of the Kaduna State Governor.35 Maikori filed a countersuit for the “undue harassment and intimidation by the Kaduna State government, the State Governor and the Nigerian Police” in May,36 which he ultimately won in October.37 A Federal High Court judge ruled that Maikori’s fundamental rights had been violated by the unlawful arrests.

In March 2017, blogger Kemi Olunloyo was arrested for a post about a pastor’s alleged extra-marital affairs. She was granted bail in April.

In July 2017, police in Katsina State detained journalist Danjuma Katsina for Facebook posts deemed critical of a local parliamentarian. He was released the next day with no charges and given no official reason for his detention.

Nigeria is home to a diverse blogosphere, which has become a source of reliable news for many users, and provides space for lengthy debate on a broad array of political and social issues. Popular blogging platforms include Medium, Blogger, and WordPress. Diverse political viewpoints are represented on Nigerian websites and blogs, though some independent online media outlets faced a backlash under previous governments.

Government manipulation was not reported during the period but as the 2019 elections approach, observers worry that online propaganda and manipulation could be employed to gain a political advantage among voters.

The ongoing prevalence of arrests for online commentary under the 2015 Cybercrime Law has resulted in increasing self-censorship, particularly among professional journalists who also publish content online.

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 has been served, and the suit was thereafter adjourned to 23rd November, 2018 for mention.

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