Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari has been sued by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) over plans to monitor WhatsApp messages of Nigerians.
This was contained In a statement issued by the SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare informing the public of the suit instituted against the President.
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 a suit filed by SERAP through its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Kehinde Oyewumi before an Abuja division of the federal high court, they sought the court to declare the Buhari administration’s plan to monitor, track and intercept WhatsApp messages, text messages and phone calls of Nigerians as illegal and unconstitutional.
According to them such an act threatens and violates Nigerians rights to preservation of privacy. They, therefore, sought “An order of perpetual injunction restraining President Buhari and any other authority, persons or group of persons from unlawfully monitoring the WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people.
“AN ORDER setting aside the budget line of N4.87bn to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people for being inconsistent and incompatible with constitutional provisions, and international human rights treaties.”
They sought an order of the court to redirect the funds to be used for monitoring WhatsApp to be geared towards the improvement of the healthcare system in Nigeria.
“AN ORDER mandating the 1st Respondent to redirect public funds in the sum of N4.87bn budgeted to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people to improve the working conditions of healthcare practitioners and improve public healthcare facilities across Nigeria,” it stated.
Others joined in the suit as respondents included Mr Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and Ms Zainab Ahmed the minister of finance, Budget and National planning.
SERAP sought the court to declare that monitoring WhatsApp messages and phone calls of Nigerians is an infringement on freedom of expression and should be declared as unlawful as it violates rights to privacy.
“A DECLARATION that monitoring of WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people is inconsistent with the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality and amounts to threat and infringement on the rights to private and family life, access to correspondence, and freedom of expression and the press guaranteed under sections 37 and 39 of Nigeria Constitution, 1999; Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Articles 17 and 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“A DECLARATION that the act of the Defendants budgeting N4.87bn of public money to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people is unlawful and a violation of the rights to private and family life, access to correspondence, and freedom of expression and the press,” SERAP added.
The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1240/2021 by SERAP, was instituted sequel to the proposal on the supplementary appropriation Act signed in July 2021.
The Nigerian government had set aside N4.8 billion for the monitoring of WhatsApp messages by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) of the N895.8 billion approved by the National Assembly.
WhatsApp is a freeware, cross-platform centralised instant messaging and voice-over-IP service that allows users to share images, documents, user location, send voice and text messages. It also allows for voice calls and video calls.