From Ndubuisi Orji, Godwin Tsa and Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Federal Government and the House of Representatives clashed yesterday over the suspension of Twitter.
On June 4, government banned Twitter after the microblogging site pulled down a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In reaction, the House mandated its Committees on Information, Communication and Justice to investigate the legal backing for government’s action.
At the resume hearing yesterday, government said it suspended operations of the micro-blogging and social networking site in line with the Terrorism Act 2011 and other extant laws.
Minister of Information and Orientation, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who appeared before the lawmakers, alongside the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), insisted that the suspension had nothing to do with the pulling down of Buhari’s tweet.
He also read the riot act to Facebook and other social media operators saying government would not hesitate to wield the big stick if they crossed the red line.
“We suspended Twitter because Twitter became a platform of choice for those that want to bring down this country. If any other platform does it, we will suspend their operations too. It is because there is a country called Nigeria that they have business here. Social media is a menace everywhere in the world. We believe that the best way to start is regulating them.”
He added: “Incidentally, the Twitter suspension is indefinite; it’s not banned. The doors are not closed. We are willing to speak to Twitter. Twitter has written a letter seeking for government dialogue and just today, I did issue a statement which I announced the government’s team that is ready to meet Twitter.
“When I leave here, I intend see whether we can have a preliminary meeting of that committee. We hope that the committee will be able to meet first and that the committee would have a good dialogue with Twitter. But like we said, there are two basic things that Twitter or any OTT or social media needs to do: they must first be registered as a Nigerian company after which they will apply for license. Other conditions will come up as we go along.”
Earlier, the minister had said that the Federal Government has said that it suspended the operations of micro-blogging and social networking site, Twitter, in the country in line with the Terrorism Act 2011 and other extant laws.
“If you look at section 3 of the National Security Act which cloth the State Security Service with the powers to preserve the internal security of Nigerians, it is very instructive that any platform that threatens the internal security of Nigeria will not be allowed to operate.
“This is a case where the Federal Government deemed it necessary that the activities of twitter in Nigeria in particular is inimical to stability in the country.
“The right to freedom of expression on the Twitter platform is further qualified by section 45 of the constitution in light to the provisions of section 5 (1) and (2) of the Terrorism Act 2011 which states that any person who knowingly, in any manner directly or indirectly solicits or render support or the commission of an act of terrorism or to a terrorist group commits an offence under this act.
“We all know that IPOB is proscribed by a High Court in Nigeria and yet, twitter is the platform of choice through which IPOB direct its people to kill soldiers, kill policemen and burn public institutions.
“So, it is clear that Twitter operations in Nigeria is inimical to our growth, both in common law and national security and so, we had to suspend their operations.”
However, a member of the joint committee, Shaba Ibrahim, said while he agreed that everything pales into insignificance when national interest and security is at stake, government’s action smacked of incipient totalitarianism.
“We are at the mercy of people who handle social media irresponsibly. All it took to wake to that responsibility was for Twitter to bring down Mr President’s tweet. With all due respect sir, I don’t think that was good enough.
“I agree that no right is in absolute terms. But again, we must mind the timing of it so that proactive actions are taken to nip these things in the bud, because what you have done whether you like it or not looks like symptoms of emerging totalitarianism.”
Meanwhile, the court of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) has restrained President Buhari and agents of the Federal Government from unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter and other social media service providers, media houses, radio and television broadcast stations and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
The ruling of the court was predicated on the suit filed against the government by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians where they argued that “the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalisation of Nigerians and other people using Twitter have escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of Nigerians and other people to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.”
The court gave the order after hearing arguments from Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana (SAN) and lawyer to the government Maimuna Shiru.
Lai, Pantami make govt’s reconciliation team
President Muhammadu Buhari has approved a Federal Government’s team to engage with Twitter over the suspension of its operations in the country.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the composition of the team in a statement in Abuja by Segun Adeyemi, special assistant to the President on Media, office of the Minister of Information and Culture.
The team which is chaired by Mohammed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Pantami; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, and representatives of relevant government agencies as members.
“Following the indefinite suspension of its operations in Nigeria, for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence, Twitter wrote to President Buhari seeking to engage with the Federal Government over the suspension, with a view to charting a path forward,” the statement read.