The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to direct Communications Minister, Isa Pantami, and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to reverse the suspension of telecommunication services in Katsina and Zamfara states.
“The suspension is a form of collective punishment of Nigerians resident in these states. Shutdowns should never become an entrenched practice in the country”, SERAP said in an open letter.
In a statement signed by Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said network disruptions without legal justification is inconsistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality.
SERAP noted that the action suggests a disturbing trend, given the growing restriction of civic space in Nigeria.
Admitting the authorities have a legal responsibility to protect the rights to life and property, “such responsibility ought to be discharged in conformity with constitutional and international human rights standards”.
The letter said shutdowns exert significant chilling effects, with direct implications on participatory democracy, whose existence depends upon an active and informed citizenry capable of engaging with a range of ideas.
“Shutdowns generate a wide variety of harms to human rights, economic activity, public safety and emergency services that outweigh the purported benefits.
“The suspension has the potential to affect millions of internet and telecommunication users in these states, and those on the margins of society are most impacted by it,” it read.
“While checking the activities of bandits/terrorists’ could be viewed as justification, the authorities have so far failed to show how shutting down telecommunication networks is necessary to achieve the stated purposes.”
SERAP said the imposition of restrictions should be guided by the objective of facilitating the right, rather than seeking unnecessary and disproportionate limitations on it.
The rights body insists restrictions must not be discriminatory, impair the essence of the right, or be aimed at causing a chilling effect.
SERAP warned that if the network shutdown in Katsina and Zamfara is not reversed within 7 days, it would take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest.
The letter pointed out the 2011 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the internet which emphasised that cutting of internet “for populations or segments of the public can never be justified, including on public order or national security grounds”.
It added that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights affirmed the principle of non-interference with access to internet and telecommunication networks.