The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over the failure to unblock the phone lines of over 72 million telecommunication subscribers barred from making calls on their SIMs.
SERAP in the lawsuit filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos, is seeking an order setting aside the directive by President Buhari to telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines.
Recall that the federal government in a statement on April 4, 2022, ordered telecommunication companies, (MTN, Globacom, Airtel, and 9mobile) to bar all outgoing calls from unlinked Subscriber Identification Module cards, SIMs, after deadline for the exercise expired on March 31.
The directive has made over 72 million subscribers (now barred) from making calls.
SERAP in open letter issued on April 9 condemned the federal government’s action, saying that blocking people from making calls undermines their ability to communicate freely and associate with others. It added that it is an infringement on their rights to freedom of expression and family life, as well as socio-economic rights.
SERAP established in 2004, is a Nigerian non-profit organization promoting socio-economic rights, transparency and accountability in Nigeria. It promotes human rights, transparency, and accountability in governance, using training, advocacy, research, and strategic litigation.
The organization thereby in the open letter gave the Buhari-led government 72 hours ultimatum to reverse the directive.
According to the lawsuit, he lawsuit, SERAP is seeking: “an order setting aside the directive by President Buhari to telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines without due process of law, and for being inconsistent with the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.
SERAP is also seeking: “an order of perpetual injunction restraining President Buhari and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami from unlawfully directing telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines, without due process and in violation of Nigerians’ human rights.”
SERAP is further seeking “an order directing and compelling President Buhari 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 National Identity Number (NIN).”
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that, “directing and compelling the Federal Government to unblock the phone lines unlawfully barred would be entirely consistent with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], and the country’s international obligations to respect, protect, and promote socio-economic rights.”
SERAP is also arguing 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 will be anarchy, and authoritarianism, leading to the loss of the much cherished and constitutionally guaranteed freedom and liberty.”
According to SERAP: “Access to telecommunications services is a condition sine qua non for the effective exercise of human rights. Therefore, the decision to block people from making calls is discriminatory, and a travesty.”
Joined in the suit as Respondents are Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and Mr Isa Pantami.
The suit was filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi.