Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara State, and the 13 local government areas of Katsina State.
This was contained in a statement signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare.
The call comes after the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ordered telecommunications operators to suspend communication networks as part of measures to check banditry in the affected areas.
SERAP said, “The suspension of the internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara and Katsina states, without any legal justification, is inconsistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality. The suspension is a form of collective punishment of Nigerians resident in these states.
“The suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara and Katsina states is particularly egregious, and suggests a disturbing trend, especially given the growing restriction of civic space in Nigeria. Shutdowns should never become an entrenched practice in the country.
“While the 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 constitutional and international human rights standards.
“Large-scale shutdowns of communication networks are a form of collective punishment. 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.
“The suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara and Katsina states fails to meet the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.
“The requirement of necessity also implies an assessment of the proportionality of restrictions such as the telecoms blackout in these states, with the aim of ensuring that restrictions target a specific objective and do not unduly intrude upon human rights.
“While ‘checking the activities of bandits/terrorists’ in these states could conceivably be viewed as justification for exceptional measures necessary to protect public order or national security, the authorities have so far failed to show how shutting down internet and telecommunication networks in the entire Zamfara State, and 13 local government areas of Katsina State is necessary to achieve the stated purposes.
“The imposition of any restrictions should be guided by the objective of facilitating the right, rather than seeking unnecessary and disproportionate limitations on it. Restrictions must not be discriminatory, impair the essence of the right, or be aimed at causing a chilling effect. Internet and telecommunication shutdowns fail to meet all of these conditions.
“Internet and telecommunication shutdowns amount to inherently disproportionate interference with the rights to freedom of expression and information. Necessity requires a showing that shutdowns would achieve their stated purpose, which in fact they often jeopardise.