An Examination of the Constitutionality of FG’s Suspension of Twitter Activities in Nigeria by Wisdom Onyisi
By Wisdom C. Onyisi: A Critical Examination of the Constitutionality of the Federal Government’s Suspension of Twitter Activities in Nigeria
The Constitution of Nigeria is the fundamental law of the land, and as such, all other legal guidelines are derived from it. The structure that was put in place in 1999 guarantees that every Nigerian has the right to freedom of speech and expression. According to paragraph one of Section 39, every person has the legal right to their own freedom of expression, which includes the right to freely convey their opinions and obtain or pass on information without interference. Because Twitter is one of the Media where Nigerians express their opinions, converse, and talk, the suspension of Twitter’s activities will make it more difficult for them to exercise this constitutionally protected right. However, section 45 of the structure that was put into effect in 1999 states that the liberties that are outlined in sections 38 to 44 should not be absolute. Because these rights are not absolute, they can be abused in a variety of ways, which can include hate speech, slander, libel, and other forms of unacceptable expression.
Section 45 of the Constitution states unequivocally that “(1) nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any regulation that is moderately justified in a democratic society-” (this provision is in no way ambiguous).
1. In the interest of protecting the public, maintaining public security, public order, public morality, or public health; or
2. “…in the interest of protecting the rights and liberties of a wide variety of different people…”
The restrictive provisions found in part 45 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria state that the right to freedom of speech and expression can only be infringed upon in the form of a regulation that has been duly handed over by the National Assembly, and not in the form of simple directives or orders issued by the Executive. This is the full purport of these provisions. This conforms to the decisions made by the courts in the cases of Ogwuche v. Federal Republic of Nigeria, Okedara v. Attorney General of the Federation, and Marwa & Ors v. Nyako & Ors (1980) LPELR-2936 (SC)).
In the case of Din v. African Newspapers of Nig Ltd. (1990) LPELR-947 (SC), the Supreme Court stated that it was evident that liberty of thought and freedom of expression have been given the utmost importance by the Constitution. It was noted that the freedom guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution includes the freedom to freely express one’s opinion and pass on information without interference; and that this freedom presupposes the free flow of opinion and ideas that is necessary to maintain the collective life of the citizenry. [p. 24] Nonetheless, the Court emphasised that the proper granted by part 39 is not an open-ended or absolute proper. Rather, the proper is certified, and as a result, it is topic to some limitations as outlined by the provisions of part 45 of the Constitution.
As a consequence of this fact, it has been suggested that the suspension of twitter actions constitutes yet another restriction on the right to freedom of expression and of the press.
Wisdom Onyisi is an ardent and prolific writer and poet, as well as an up-and-coming advocate for human rights and lawyer.