By Udora Orizu
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari, asking the court to declare illegal and unconstitutional the plan by his administration to track, intercept and monitor whatsapp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people, as it severely threatens and violates the right to the preservation of privacy.
Joined in the suit as respondents are the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed.
The suit followed the proposal in the Supplementary Appropriation Act signed in July 2021 to spend N4.87 billion to monitor private calls and messages. The amount is part of the N895.8 billion supplementary budget approved by the National Assembly.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1240/2021 filed last Friday by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Kehinde Oyewumi, at Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking an order of perpetual injunction restraining President Buhari and any other authority or group of persons from unlawfully monitoring the whatsapp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people.
SERAP is also seeking a declaration that any monitoring of WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages is oppressive and draconian, as it threatens and violates sections 37 and 39 of Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Articles 17 and 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.
The suit read in part: “The powers to conduct arbitrary, abusive or unlawful surveillance of communications may also be used to target political figures and activists, journalists and others in the discharge of their lawful activities. Any spending of public funds should stay within the limits of constitutional responsibilities, and oath of office by public officers, as well as comply with Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution relating to fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.
“Interference with privacy through targeted surveillance is designed to repress the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Surveillance of journalists, activists, opposition figures, critics and others simply exercising their right to freedom of expression would lead to violations of other human rights. Targeted surveillance creates incentives for self-censorship and directly undermines the ability of journalists and human rights defenders to conduct investigations and build and maintain relationships with sources of information.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.