To: Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Yemi Osibanjo (SAN), Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami (PhD), Minister of Communications and Digital Economy; Adeolu Akande, Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission; Tony Ojukwu, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission; Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (EVC/CEO) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC); Alh. Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information & Culture;Gbenga Adebayo, President, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, ALTON; Olusola Teniola, President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria
Your Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
We, the undersigned organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 300 organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns — write to urgently appeal to you, President Buhari, to ensure that the internet, social media platforms, and all other communication channels remain free, open, secure, inclusive, and accessible prior to, during, and after the general election scheduled for February 25, 2023 and the gubernatorial elections on March 11, 2023.
As the people of Nigeria prepare to vote for their representatives, governors, and president across the country’s 774 local government areas, 36 states, and Federal capital territory, it is essential that your government adopts and prioritizes measures to ensure that the election process is inclusive, free, and fair by ensuring everyone has unfettered access to information and avenues for free expression, assembly, and association — both offline and online. This encompasses fundamental human rights enshrined in the 1999 constitution such as freedom of expression and opinion, access to information, press freedom, and freedom of assembly.
The internet and social media platforms play a critical role in enhancing participatory governance and promoting the realization of fundamental human rights in a democratic society. These platforms provide spaces for communicating, public debate, seeking information on electoral processes and candidates, reporting and documenting events and outcomes, conducting political campaigns, relaying election results, and holding governments accountable for their actions. In June 2021 Nigeria shut down Twitter. The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Court) on July 14, 2022, declared the shutdown as “unlawful and inconsistent with the country’s international obligations.”
The ECOWAS Court further ruled that the suspension was a violation of the enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and the media contrary to the provisions of Article 9 of the African Charter established by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The court ordered Nigeria to ensure the unlawful suspension would not reoccur and to take necessary steps to amend its laws to conform with the rights and freedoms enshrined in the ACHPR and ICCPR. The government therefore has the responsibility to uphold court rulings by ensuring the people of Nigeria have unhindered access to the internet and digital communications platforms at all times.
Internet shutdowns harm human rights, exacerbate crises, and stop the free flow of information
Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand. Shutting down the internet during elections, conflict, protests, and, a deadly pandemic adds fuel to the fire, and cuts off access to vital, timely, and life-saving information, and to emergency services. By disrupting the flow of information, shutdowns exacerbate existing tensions, potentially instigate or conceal violence and human rights violations perpetrated by both state and non-state actors, and spur the spread of misinformation.
Shutdowns make it extremely difficult for journalists and the media to carry out their work thereby denying people both inside and outside of the country access to credible information. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), human rights defenders, election observers, political parties, election candidates, civil society actors, and other stakeholders count on the internet to monitor and report on elections, facilitating transparency and openness in the process.
Additionally, imposing internet shutdowns interferes with people’s livelihoods and costs nations excessive economic loss as businesses, companies, public and private institutions which rely on the digital economy stand to lose huge sums of money during shutdowns.
Internet shutdowns contravene international laws
Nigeria has ratified regional and international frameworks such as the legally-binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which provide for the protection and promotion of the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, assembly, and access to information — both offline and online. Furthermore, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa 2019 calls upon States not to “engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.”
The 2016 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Resolution recognizes the “importance of the internet in advancing human and people’s rights in Africa,” and expressed concern over the “emerging practice of State Parties interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the internet, social media, and messaging services.”
Additionally, in 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution stating that the right to freedom of expression on the internet should be protected by state parties stating , “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online,” with Nigeria as a co-sponsor. Moreover, the UN Secretary General and experts affirm that, “blanket internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services are considered by the UN human rights mechanisms to be in violation of international human rights law.”
Telecommunications companies must respect human rights
Telecommunications companies and businesses are compelled under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to respect human rights, prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for harms they cause or contribute to.
Telecommunications and internet service providers operating in Nigeria — including MTN, Airtel, 9mobile, Globacom, Spectranet, Ntel and a host of others — have a responsibility to provide quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools.
Internet shutdowns — whether in Nigeria or other countries — must never be allowed to become the norm, and we encourage Nigerian Companies to integrate these principles and practices for responding to censorship and network disruption requests in all markets where they operate.
As organizations that believe in the power of the internet and digital platforms as an enabler of many human rights, we respectfully request that you use the important positions of your offices to:
- Publicly assure people in Nigeria that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, inclusive, and secure across the country before, during, and after the election;
- Refrain from ordering the interruption of telecommunications services, social media platforms, and other digital communication platforms before, during, or after the elections;
- Ensure that telecommunications and internet service providers implement all necessary measures to provide high-quality, secure, unrestricted, and uninterrupted internet access throughout the election period and thereafter in line with their quality of service and license conditions;
- Ensure that telecommunication and internet service providers inform internet users of any potential disruptions, and take all reasonable steps to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service they receive; and
- Uphold national and international laws and obligations including Nigeria’s Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court judgment.
Kindly let us know how the #KeepItOn coalition can support you in upholding a free, open, secure, inclusive, and accessible internet for all in Nigeria.
Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
Africa Media and Information Technology Initiative (AfriMITI)
African Freedom of expression Exchange (AFEX)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Africa Interactive Media
Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation
AW Free Foundation
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
Bloggers of Zambia (BloggersZM)
Blueprint for Free Speech
Digital Rights Kashmir
Centre for Community Empowerment and Development (CECAD)
Centre for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP)
Change Tanzania Movement
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Haki na Sheria
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Common Cause Zambia
Gambia Press Union (GPU)
International Press Centre (IPC)
Internet Protection Society (Russia)
Internet Society Benin chapter
Ideas Beyond Borders
Kijiji Yeetu, Kenya
Kenya Human Rights Commission
Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)
Media Diversity Institute – Armenia
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Office of Civil Freedoms
Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)
Organization of the Justice Campaign- OJC
Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
Ranking Digital Rights
The Tor Project
Women ICT Advocacy Group (WIAG)
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
Zambian Bloggers Network