The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari “over the failure to unblock the phone lines of over 72 million telecommunication subscribers barred from making calls on their SIMs.”
Joined in the suit as Respondents are Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation and Mr Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
The suit followed the recent directive by the Nigerian Government to telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines, as the deadline for the verification expired on March 31. Following the directive, over 72 million subscribers have now been barred from making calls.
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/711/2022 filed last week at the Federal High Court in Lagos, SERAP is seeking: “an order setting aside the directive by President Buhari to telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines without due process of law, and for being inconsistent with the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.”
It is also seeking “an order of perpetual injunction restraining President Buhari and the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami from unlawfully directing telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines, without due process and in violation of Nigerians’ human rights.”
In addition, the organisation is asking the court to direct and compel “President Buhari to ensure adequate infrastructure and logistics to allow Nigerians including persons with disabilities, older persons, and persons living in remote areas, to capture their data and conclude registration to obtain National Identity Number (NIN).”
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that, “directing and compelling the Federal Government to unblock the phone lines unlawfully barred would be entirely consistent with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], and the country’s international obligations to respect, protect, and promote socio-economic rights.”
SERAP told the court that it would be in the interest of justice to grant the application.
“Access to telecommunications services is a condition sine qua non for the effective exercise of human rights. Therefore, the decision to block people from making calls is discriminatory, and a travesty,” it noted.
“The blocking of phone lines of Nigerians without due process of law has disproportionately affected those on the margins of society. This has resulted in the discrimination of marginalized or vulnerable groups.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “While Nigerian authorities have a legal responsibility to protect, ensure and secure the rights to life and property, any such responsibility ought to be discharged in conformity with human rights standards.
“Fundamental rights are regarded as part of human rights and are protected to enhance human dignity and liberty.
“Unblocking the phone lines unlawfully barred from making calls would improve respect for the rule of law, and ensure people’s right to freedom of expression, and access to information, as well as their right to associate with others.
“The blocking of people from making calls constitutes impermissible restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, information, and association.”
SERAP said the rights of people must be protected online and offline.
“Any restriction on these rights must be provided by law, be necessary in a democratic society and serve a legitimate aim,” it added.
“The blocking of people from making calls on their SIMs also amounts to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their right to family life, and socio-economic rights, as it unnecessarily or disproportionately interferes with these fundamental human rights.
“The decision to block the phone lines also appears to be arbitrary, and lacks any legal framework, independent and judicial oversight. This may allow authorities to act in an unfettered and potentially arbitrary or unlawful manner.”