Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately reverse the decision to block over 72 million active telecommunication subscribers from making calls on their Subscriber Identity Modules, SIMs.
Last week, the Federal Government ‘ordered’ telecommunications companies to block outgoing calls on all unlinked lines as the deadline for the verification expired on March 31. Following the directive, over 72 million subscribers have now been barred from making calls.
In the open letter dated April 9, 2022, by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said, “Blocking people from making calls undermines their ability to communicate freely, and associate with others. It infringes their rights to freedom of expression and family life, as well as socio-economic rights.”
SERAP, “The decision will have a chilling effect, dissuading the free expression of ideas and information.
According to SERAP, “The decision to block people from making calls is also inconsistent and incompatible with the country’s international legal obligations to respect, protect, promote and facilitate economic and social rights. The decision contradicts the tenets of the rule of law, and a democratic society.
“Immediately reversing the decision would be in conformity with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.
Reversing the decision would also improve the confidence of the international community in human rights and the rule of law in Nigeria.”
The letter, read in part, “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.
“The decision will cause a wide variety of harms to economic activity, personal safety, and disproportionately affect those on the margins of society. This will directly hinder the ability of the government to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Goal 8 on the promotion of sustained, inclusive, sustainable economic growth.
“Millions of Nigerians including persons with disabilities, elderly citizens, persons living in remote areas have been unable to capture their biometrics, and obtain their National Identity Numbers [NINs] due to logistical challenges, administrative and bureaucratic burdens, as well as the persistent collapse of the national grid.
“This has resulted in the discrimination of marginalized or vulnerable groups.
“We would be grateful if the decision to block people from making calls on their SIMs is reversed within 48 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest to ensure full compliance with human rights standards.
“The rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of association, whether offline or online promote the democratic ideal by allowing citizens to voice their concerns, challenge governmental institutions, and hold government accountable for its actions.
“We support any lawful means to address the growing insecurity across the country. However, 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 human rights standards.
“While we recognize the need for your government to take measures to ensure security and safety of the people in the country, we are seriously concerned that the decision to block people from making calls appears to go beyond the restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, information, and association.”
SERAP maintained that the decision to block over 72 million subscribers from making calls on their SIMs also “amounts to an arbitrary or unlawful interference with their right to family life, and socio-economic rights, as it unnecessarily or disproportionately interferes with these fundamental human rights.”