ECOWAS Court orders Nigeria to amend its Cybercrime Law

By Adoba Echono

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The Community Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ordered the Nigerian government to either repeal or amend its law on cybercrime to align with its obligation under Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The regional court made the order in a judgment on a suit filed by the Incorporated Trustees of Laws and Rights Awareness Initiative, challenging the competence of Nigeria’s Cybercrime (Prohibition and Prevention) Act 2015.

A three-man panel of the court held that portions of the law violated Nigerians’ right to freedom of expression.

Justice Januaria Moreira Costa, in the lead judgment, held the Nigerian government liable for the violation of the right to freedom of expression by the adoption of Section 24 of its 2015 Cybercrime Act.

Other members of the panel were Justices Dupe Atoki (presiding) and Keikura Bangura.

The court rejected, for lack of evidence, other claims made by the plaintiff in relation to the contention that the law violated its members’ right to freedom of expression.

It ordered each party to bear its own cost.

The plaintiff had, in the suit claimed among others, that its members’ freedom of expression on the internet or in the use of computer devices was limited/breached by Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act 2015.

It also claimed that nine of its collaborators were arrested and detained in connection with the enforcement of the provision of Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act in violation of Articles 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and 39 of the Nigeria’s Constitution.

The plaintiff argued that Section 24 contained vague concepts that allowed for arbitrary interpretation and application, and that the restrictions it imposes were not reasonably justifiable as they did not pursue legitimate objectives.

The Nigerian Government, in a counter-argument, faulted the plaintiff’s claims and insisted that Section 24 of its Cybercrime Act 2015 was adopted as a legislative measure to give effect to freedom of expression as provided in Article 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and was in accordance with provisions of Section 39(3) of the country’s 1999 Constitution.

 

Emmanuel Ukoh

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