The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued President Muhammadu Buhari and two others at the Federal High Court, Lagos over failure to rescind the reported approval for security agencies to access people’s personal details via National Identification Number, Subscriber Identification Module (NIN-SIM) linkage.
Joined in the suit as respondents are Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami.
Buhari had in February, reportedly given his approval for security agencies to access the database of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) in the course of carrying out their duties.
But in the suit number, FHC/L/CS/448/2022, filed at the weekend, SERAP is asking the court to determine whether the directive was consistent with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.
The group is also asking seeking an order to override the President, arguing that the order amounts to violation of private and digital communication rights, right to family life, human dignity and personal liberty.
The rights body is also asking the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Government or any other authority, person or group of persons from unlawfully accessing people’s personal details via NIN-SIM linkage without due process of the law.
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that if Buhari’s approval is not rescinded, millions of law-abiding Nigerians may feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance.
It also argued that, in the digital age, protecting the right to privacy requires exceptional attention.
The approval may be used as a pretext by security agencies to violate Nigerians’ right to privacy and other related human rights, SERAP added.
According to the organisation, interference with an individual’s right to privacy is not permissible if it is unlawful or arbitrary.
The case, filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “The right to privacy allows Nigerians to hold opinions and exercise freedom of expression without arbitrary or illegal interference and attacks.
“While the effectiveness of the fight against serious crime may depend to a great extent on the use of modern investigation techniques, such an objective of general interest, however fundamental it may be, cannot in itself justify the unlawful or arbitrary interference with the right to privacy.
“Unlawful or arbitrary access to people’s personal details would contravene Section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which protect against arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s privacy.”
It added: “The power to access individual’s details raises serious concerns as to their arbitrary use by the authorities responsible for applying them in a manner that reduces human rights by the monitoring and surveillance of millions of Nigerians.
“Violations or abuses of the right to privacy might affect the enjoyment of other human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference.”
No date has been fixed for hearing of the suit.