OrderPaper Today- Majority of members of the House of Representatives on Thursday rejected a move to upturn the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria as ordered by the federal government. 

The rejection followed a debate on the report of the House joint committee on the controversial government action.

The committee led by Mr. Olusegun Odebunmi (APC, Oyo) presented five recommendations for approval by the House on Thursday 1st of July 2021. 

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The recommendations made by the Mr. Odebunm- led Committee were as follows:

(i) That time be allowed for the Federal Government of Nigeria and Twitter to enter into the dialogue process that is already ongoing to create room for amicable settlement on the matter;

(ii) That relevant Government Institutions such as National Broadcasting Commission, Nigeria Communication Satellite etc. should live up to their mandate by doing the needful to avoid future occurrence of this nature;

(iii) That the Federal Government should consider the negative effect of the Twitter suspension on Nigerians who depend on the platform for their livelihood;

(iv) That the Federal Government should be pro-active in their interface with Twitter to come up with a timely resolution on the matter;

(v) That freedom of expression is not absolute anywhere in the world. This is because security and freedom of expression sometimes present contending interests. Therefore, national security must be guaranteed at all times as much as the right to free speech must be protected; and

(vi) That the Government should always communicate better with Nigerians when critical decisions are to be made.

Following the presentation of the committee’s recommendations, members made their inputs during debate. 

Mr. Toby Okechukwu, the deputy minority leader, moved for the amendment of the third recommendation, which stated thus:

“(iii) That the Federal Government should take into cognizance the negative effect of the Twitter suspension on Nigerians who depends on the platform for their livelihood”.

However, Mr. Okechukwu submitted that the recommendation should have read thus: “(iii) That the Federal Government should take into cognizance the negative effect of the Twitter suspension on Nigerians who depends on the platform for their livelihood and therefore call for the lifting of the suspension of Twitter”.

On the other hand, Mr. Babangida Ibrahim from Kano (APC) opposed the recommendation by Okechukwu. According to him, “time should be allowed for the federal government and Twitter to complete the ongoing dialogue”.

The presiding officer, Deputy Speaker Idris Wase, then put the motion by Toby Okechukwu to the vote. The loud ‘nays’ from members of the ruling APC outnumbered the opposition.

Background to Twitter ban…

On Friday the 4th of June 2021, the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, announced the immediate suspension of the operations of the social media network Twitter in Nigeria. 

In his statement announcing the suspension, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, cited “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” That was the reason he gave for the decision to suspend the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.

Committee’s mandate…

The Speaker had previously mandated the Joint Committee to investigate the Twitter ban stating that “The suspension on Twitter in Nigeria has generated fierce debate. Since the announcement, the House of Representatives has been inundated with comments about decisions, requests for intervention, and criticism. Like other social media networks, the House of Representatives recognizes that Twitter is an important tool for communication and commerce in Nigeria, particularly amongst the younger generation who have used these networks for enterprise and innovation with great success. However, the House also recognizes that as social media has been a tool for good, it can also be a tool for bad actors. As such, the government has a legitimate interest in ensuring that these platforms are not used to commit vile actions against individuals and the State”.

“The proper role of the legislature in circumstances like this is first to peel back the layers of the decision-making process to unravel the issues until we develop an understanding of the why and the how of executive decisions. Following that, the legislature must make sure that regulatory and enforcement actions by the government are in accordance with the laws of the land, that due process of law has been followed to the latter and that the outcomes of regulatory decisions do not result in adverse consequences for the country and all our people.

“Fidelity to our responsibilities in situations like this requires the legislature and legislators to, as in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs”. We listen to the agitation of the people. Still, we also hear from the government so that from the abundance of information, we reach the level of awareness that allows us to discharge our role dispassionately.

“It is in service of our obligations under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and our moral duty to the Nigerian people, that the leadership of the House has decided to mandate the House Committees on Communication, Justice, Information and Culture, and National Security and Intelligence to immediately commence an investigation to determine: 

i) The circumstances of the decision by the Federal Government of Nigeria to suspend the operations of Twitter in Nigeria; and 

ii) The legal authority for the ban on the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.

“The Committees are additionally mandated to Invite the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to brief the House of Representatives on the objectives, intent, and duration of the suspension on the operations of Twitter in Nigeria, and to report to the House within ten (10) days. The report of the Committees will guide further action by the House of Representatives on this matter. Therefore, I urge the Committees to act with speed and sound judgment to address this issue that has animated our national conversations over the last few days.”

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