Some members of the Nigerian House of Representative have torn into the Twitter ban in the country by the federal government, describing it as a disservice to the country and symptoms of an emerging dictatorship.
This was as the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed honoured the summons by the House of Representative on the ban. During the investigative hearing by the House committees on communications; justice; information and culture; and national security and intelligence, Alhaji Mohammed insisted the FG was well within its rights to summarily ban the microblogging platform in the country.
The minister insisted that while the constitution guaranteed freedom of speech and expression, that freedom is not absolute. He said that national security supersedes everything else, and in the instance where freedom of speech is pitched against national security, the latter would always take precedence.
While it is true that sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of the constitution actually provide for freedom of speech, it is actually qualified by Section 45 of the same constitution, which is to the effect that nothing in these sections shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other people.Lai Mohammed
The minister insisted that the only reason why the FG banned Twitter was because it was promoting disunity in Nigeria. Citing the EndSARS protest as well as the Twitter activities of the proscribed IPOB secessionists, Alhaji Mohammed concluded that Twitter posed sufficient security risk to warrant the suspension of its operation.
Reps insist Twitter ban was ill considered
But members of the committee faulted the minister’s submission on several issues raised. While acknowledging that the minister presented adequate legal framework, they noted that the action itself appears to have been made in ‘bad faith’ which was the cause of the national and global outcry that followed it.
Mr Shaba Ibrahim from Kogi wondered if the FG considered the impression which the ban would leave in the minds of millions across the entire world before proceeding with the ban.
“I say this because sometimes there is what you call ‘claim of right made in bad faith.’ If you have been proactive, with due respect, you wouldn’t have allowed all these infractions to go unchecked, until the President’s tweet was taken down. I think, with all due respect, that was a disservice to us,” he said.
While admitting that no right is absolute, Mr Ibrahim advocated for proactivity in handling issues of this nature.
“Because what you have done, whether you like it or not, looks like symptoms of emerging totalitarianism. And that is why everyone is shouting blue murder”Shaba Ibrahim
Another lawmaker, Olatunji Shoyinka representing Lagos said condemned the suddenness of the action by the FG and wondered why Mr Mohammed didn’t talk about the advantages of social media as exhaustively as he talked about its disadvantage.
Aniekan Umanah from Akwa-Ibom asked; “Did we have to wait for Mr President’s tweet to be taken down before the government came to the realisation that certain things have been going wrong? Did we have to wait for a tweet to be taken down before we rediscovered these laws and all these sections that we have heard from the honourable minister?”
State of the Twitter ban in Nigeria
The federal government suspended Twitter’s operation in the country on June 5, 2021. In this time, Nigeria may have lost up to N34.8 billion, based on an estimate by Netblocks which posits that each day of the Twitter ban costs Nigeria about N2.18 billion.
While the ECOWAS Court of Justice sitting in Abuja has restrained the FG from carrying out its threat of prosecuting Nigerians who still use Twitter and have the apps on their devices, it is not nearly a resolution of the case as the matter of the suspension still looms large.
To this end, the president has formed a committee to negotiate and agree terms of resolution with Twitter. Members of this committee include Lai Mohammed himself, The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami and Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama.
It is yet unclear what the FG’s demands would be but we expect that Twitter would be required to register with the NBC, be required not to support future protests like the #EndSARS and be required to restrict tweets by members of the secessionist group, IPOB especially tweets from its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
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