SERAP sues Buhari, others for blocking 72m telecoms subscribers

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued President Muhammadu Buhari and two others at the Federal High Court, Lagos, over failure to unblock phone lines of over 72 million telecommunications subscribers barred from making calls on account of National Identification Number and Subscriber Identity Module (NIN-SIM) linkage.

Joined in the suit, as respondents, are Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami.

The litigation followed the recent directive by the Federal Government to telecommunications firms to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines, as the deadline for the verification expired on March 31.

Following the order, over 72 million subscribers have been barred from making calls.

In the suit number, FHC/L/CS/711/2022, filed at the weekend by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, SERAP is seeking an order setting aside the presidential directive without due process of law, and for being inconsistent with the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.

The body is also praying for an order of perpetual injunction restraining Buhari and Pantami from “unlawfully directing telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines, without due process and in violation of Nigerians’ human rights.”

The Lagos-based organisation equally wants an order directing and compelling the President 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 the NIN.

In the case, SERAP argued that directing and compelling the Federal Government to unblock the phone lines unlawfully barred would be entirely consistent with the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Nigeria’s international obligations to respect, protect and promote socio-economic rights.

It maintained that where agencies of government are allowed to operate at large and at their whims and caprices in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the end result would be anarchy and authoritarianism, leading to loss of the much-cherished and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and liberties.

According to the rights body, access to telecommunications services is a condition sine qua non for effective exercise of liberties.

“The decision to block people from making calls is discriminatory and a travesty,” the activists insisted. The suit reads 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.

“The rights to freedom of opinion and expression and access to information are protected under Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.”

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