A Critical Examination of the Constitutionality of Federal Government’s Suspension of Twitter Activities in Nigeria by Wisdom C. Onyisi
In Nigeria, the Constitution is the ground norm and as such other laws draw from it. The 1999 constitution guarantees the right of every Nigerian to freedom of speech and expression. Section 39 (1) states that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive; impart information without interference. The suspension of twitter activities will impede this constitutional right because twitter is one of Media where Nigerians express their opinions, speak and communicate. However, section 45 of the 1999 constitution, is to the effect that the freedoms listed in sections 38 to 44 are not absolute. It is in these rights not being absolute, that resides hate speech, slander, libel and other excesses of freedom of expression.:
In no equivocal term, Section 45 provides“(1) nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution, shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justified in a democratic society-
1. In the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
2. For the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons…”
The full purport of this restrictive provisions in section 45 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is that the right to freedom of speech and expression can only be derogated by a law duly passed by the National Assembly and not mere directives or order from the Executive.. This is in line with the judgments of the courts in Ogwuche v. Federal Republic of Nigeria; Okedara v. Attorney General of the Federation; Marwa & Ors v. Nyako & Ors (1980) LPELR-2936 (SC))
In Din v. African Newspapers of Nig Ltd (1990) LPELR-947 (SC) the Court declared that under the Constitution it was clear that liberty of thought and freedom of expression were paramount. It noted that the freedom guaranteed under section 39 of the Constitution includes the freedom to hold an opinion and pass information without interference; and that this freedom presupposes free flow of opinion and ideas essential to sustain the collective life of the citizenry. [p. 24] The Court however, stressed that the right provided under section 39 is not an open-ended or absolute right, the right is qualified, and therefore subject to some restrictions by the provisions of section 45 of the Constitution.
It is therefore submitted that the suspension of twitter activities is another crackdown of the right to freedom of expression and of the press.
Wisdom Onyisi is a passionate and prolific writer, poet, budding human right activist and lawyer