From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja and Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Members of the House of Representatives, yesterday, clashed over demand by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus for reversal of the ban on the operation of Twitter.
Following the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed last week announced the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. The government also threatened to arrest and prosecute anyone using Twitter in the country, while the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) asked all broadcast stations to suspend patronage of Twitter.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, in an address at yesterday’s plenary, mandated the joint Committees on Communication, Justice, Information and Culture, and National Security and Intelligence to immediately commence investigation into the ban. He also summoned Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed to appear before the House over the issue.
He said Mohammed would appear before the joint committee to brief it on the objectives and duration of the suspension. He said the joint committee would determine the circumstances surrounding the decision by the Federal Government to suspend Twitter, and the legal authority government relied on in taking the decision.
The joint committee is expected to report to the House within 10 days for further legislative actions.
However, as soon as Gbajabiamila was done with his speech, leader of PDP caucus, Kingsley Chinda, raised a point of order. While commending the speaker for being proactive, he proposed that the government be urged to rescind the ban on Twitter, pending the completion of the House investigation.
“My concern is that as a Nigerian and several other Nigerians out there, the implication is that for the 10 days you have given that committee to work, this breach will continue. We don’t even know for how long our interaction with the executive arm will last.
“While I agree with the submission of the leadership of this House completely, I will only want to add that for the breach of our fundamental human right, particularly the right to fair hearing, right to freedom of speech and expression, we should urge the executive arm in the interim to reverse the ban pending our interaction with the executive.”
Gbajabiamila ruled him out of order, saying a decision had already been taken on the issue.
As the PDP caucus leader tried to speak further, House Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa and Chief Whip, Tahir Monguno heckled him, asking him to sit down and be guided by the ruling of the speaker.
At this point, Chinda took his things and left the chamber, followed by other PDP lawmakers.
After the PDP lawmakers left the chamber, Chairman, House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi, who spoke under matters of privilege, alleged that there was a plot by some members to disrupt the business of the House if their demand on the Twitter ban was not granted by the leadership.
Speaking later at a press briefing, the PDP caucus leader insisted that the opposition would continue to tweet and dared the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation( AGF) to prosecute them, if he wishes to.
“We have also said that every member of the PDP caucus will continue to tweet. We are calling on the Attorney General to leave Nigerians alone. Do not prosecute Nigerians. We are their representatives. We will tweet. Any day you want to prosecute us, tell us the court, and the time. We will be there ourselves to surrender to your prosecution. Do not prosecute any Nigerian. Prosecute us, members of the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives. If you want to jail us, jail us if we have committed an offence. We surrender ourselves on behalf of Nigerians.”
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has said suspension of Twitter’s operations is a ploy to distract Nigerians from the Federal Government’s failure to address insecurity.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Ortom said the ban is illegal, suppression of the fundamental rights of Nigerians and a gag on social media.