TWITTER SUSPENSION: Lawmakers Say FG Manifests Love for Buhari, Not Nigeria
Members of Nigeria’s House of Assembly on Tuesday faulted the federal government’s reasons for suspending Twitter operation in country, saying it put President Muhammadu Buhari’s personal convenience above the nation’s interest.
The lawmakers dismissed government’s claims that Twitter was undermining the country’s interest, arguing that no one took any action until Twitter blocked Buhari’s comment on its platform.
The lawmakers’ position came on the same day the federal government announced that it has constituted a team to begin negotiations with Twitter.
The House of Representatives’ committees on communications, justice, information and culture, as well as that of national security and intelligence, grilled the country’s minister of information, Lai Mohammed over the government action at an investigative hearing organised by the committees.
The minister listed the various legal provisions backing government’s action.
The minister stated that national security superseded other considerations such as fundamental human rights.
In his presentation, Mohammed explained the legal backing for the action against Twitter, saying, “It is true that many Nigerians have accused the Federal Government of an attempt to stifle the media and free speech, and we say not at all. There is absolutely no attempt on the part of government to stifle free speech and the media.
“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.
Several members of the committee, however, disagreed with the minister, saying government’s action was selective, as other social media platforms were also allegedly guilty of the same offences listed by the government.
They also said the federal government did not manifest its love for Nigeria by taking action any of the infractions it alleged against Twitter until the micro-blogging site yanked off President Buhari’s tweet.
They said the government had shown by its action that it loved the person of President Buhari, not the country as an entity.
The lawmakers, however, faulted some of the issues raised by Mohammed.
A member, Shaba Ibrahim (PDP/Kogi) said he agreed with the minister that national interest and security were at stake.
He also admitted that Mohammed had done “a very beautiful rendition of the legal framework” that he thinks supported the suspension.
He however observed, “Beautiful as it is, I just wonder if in the consideration of that ban, you took into cognizance, the coincidence of Mr President’s tweet and Twitter’s action, and the impression it created on the minds of millions of Nigerians and indeed the entire world.
“I say this because sometimes there is what you call ‘claim of right made in bad faith.’ You may well have a legal platform upon which to anchor that action but the circumstances are (the reasons) why you have everybody alluding to the (similar) action taken (by Twitter) against (President Donald) Trump.”
“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.
“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. And that is why everyone is shouting blue murder.”
Another member, Chinedu Ogar (APC/Ebonyi) asked the minister about the efforts made by regulatory agencies especially the National Broadcasting Commission to address the issues until a tweet by the President was deleted by Twitter.
Another member from Akwa Ibom, Unyime Idem, 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?’
But the lawmaker representing the Daura/Maiadua/Sandamu Constituency in Katsina State, Fatuhu Muhammad, supported the federal government.
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