The Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has called on the Federal Government to halt its reported efforts to shut down online newspapers, blogs and websites perceived to constitute a “threat to national security”.
Describing the move as a brazen violation of the Constitution and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations, MRA threatened to lodge a complaint against Nigeria before regional and international human rights bodies if the Federal Government does not put a stop to the plan.
In a statement in Lagos, MRA’s Executive Director, Mr Edetaen Ojo, said the surreptitious moves to clamp down on online media, attributed to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), acting on the instructions of the National Security Adviser (NSA) to the President, constitute an affront to basic human rights norms and standards which guide the actions of all civilized nations.
Mr. Ojo said: “The Nigerian government, represented by the NSA and the NCC, cannot constitute itself into an accuser, judge and executioner in violation of the rights to freedom of expression and fair hearing, guaranteed by our Constitution as well as regional and international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a party. Their actions constitute a shameless abuse of power by the Federal Government as evidenced by the underhand methods that they have adopted in carrying out their nefarious activities.”
MRA said it is inclined to believe that the plan and its implementation are the handiwork of a few rogue officials of the Federal Government and that it does not have government-wide or presidential support, particularly in the light of the strong denial by the Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, of any knowledge of the plan and his disavowal of the move.
It, therefore, called on President Muhammadu Buhari, to unequivocally distance his Administration from such a brazen violation of the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression, access to information and fair hearing and immediately put a stop to the move.
The group said if the Federal Government continued with the patently illegal plan, the organization would have no choice but lodge the appropriate complaints before the relevant regional and international human rights mechanisms, a course of action which may prove embarrassing for the government.
The media reported over the weekend that the Federal Government, acting through the NCC, had engaged the services of a private company in Lagos to block the domain names of “several identified websites threatening national security”. The government directive is reported to have come from the Office of the National Security Adviser who has compiled a list of at least 21 “offending” websites, blogs and online publications that should be blocked for alleged threat to national security.
But MRA insisted in its statement that the National Security Adviser has no authority to make such a determination as only a properly constituted court can determine whether any organization or person is in violation of any law for which punitive action should be taken against them.
The organization also stressed that NCC acting on the instructions of the National Security Adviser without the due process of law is violating the constitution and the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression including the right to receive information as stated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees that
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
MRA argued that the NSA has no authority over the NCC which is an agency established by law. It noted that it is clear from the Nigerian Communications Commission Act of 2003 that the person duly authorized by law to supervise and instruct the NCC is the Minister of Communication, who has said that he is not aware that any memo originated from the NCC instructing any firm to gag the press, particularly online newspapers, Internet and social media users, or to shut them down. The Minister also stated that he had given no such instruction and that no instruction would be given to the NCC without such passing through him as the Minister supervising the NCC.
MRA therefore contended that any other instruction to the NCC coming from any other source, including the NSA, is illegal.
It called on the Federal Government to abide by 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 the due process of the law.
According to MRA, if the Federal Government has any reason to believe that any person or institution has committed an offense or is about to commit an offense under any written law in operation in Nigeria, its recourse is to bring that person or institution before a duly constituted court of law and not to resort to taking the laws into its own hands.