OrderPaperToday – The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House of Representatives has threatened legal action against the federal government over the recent suspension of the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.

The lawmakers strongly condemned the “Federal Government’s decision to suspend Twitter in the strongest possible terms and call on the authorities to immediately rescind this decision in the interest of free speech and the rule of law, indeed in the interest of democracy.”

The caucus said the government’s action lacked the backing of the constitution and capable of further dampening the image of Nigeria in the community of democratic nations and “one more step in a litany of attempts to restrict the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens as enshrined in and guaranteed by Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution.”

Leader of the caucus, Mr. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), said in a statement on Sunday in Abuja that the subsequent directive to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to license social media operators in the country is a surreptitious attempt to introduce the unpopular ‘Social Media Bill’ by mere executive fiat.

The caucus stressed that such move is a grave violation of the doctrine of separation of powers and an erosion of the rule of law, saying further that “it is worrisome that, at a time when the country faces a real existential crisis and totters on the brink of implosion from acute challenges such as widespread insecurity manifesting in banditry, kidnapping and the activities of armed non-state actors across the Federation, coupled with the parlous state of the economy resulting in ballooning inflation and massive youth unemployment, the Federal Government appears to be more preoccupied with stifling the right of Nigerian citizens to freely express themselves on social media and elsewhere.”

The statement reads: ‘On Friday 4th June 2021, Nigerians received with rude shock the news of the Federal Government’s indefinite ‘suspension’ of Twitter in Nigeria. This rather rash suspension was supposedly anchored on the allegation that Twitter had allowed its platform to be used ‘for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.’

“The announcement by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture also insidiously instructed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT (Over-The-Top) and social media operations in Nigeria.

“As expected, this announcement has sent shockwaves amongst believers in democracy and rule of law across Nigeria and the entire world.

“We note with great concern that the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria by the Federal Government is one more step in a litany of attempts to restrict the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens as enshrined in and guaranteed by Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution.

“Nigerians will recall that on 4th August, 2020, the Minister of Information and Culture issued/enacted an Amended 6th National Broadcasting Code for the country which similarly imposes restrictions on sundry fundamental freedoms.

“Convinced that the Broadcasting Code is a violation of Chapter IV of the Constitution, this Caucus filed a suit before the Federal High Court, Abuja Division in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1136/2020 between Rep. Kingsley Chinda & 8 Ors v. Minister of Information & 2 Ors. This matter is still pending.

“We also note with great worry attempts by the government, at least going by the statement issued by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, to prosecute Nigerians who have chosen not to be cajoled by a government intent on violating their right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Section 36 of the Constitution 1999, and who have continued to express themselves through their twitter handles by using the VPN application.

“The supposed suspension imposed on Twitter has no legal foundation as executive fiats, no matter the language they’re couched, have no force of law. No citizen can be tried for an offence that has no basis in law or backed by a written law and punishment prescribed.

“For many Nigerians, social media is not only a means of escape from the drudgery of daily existence, but has become a veritable source of employment, advertisement and meaningful engagement.

“Twitter, in particular, has become an integral component of the citizens’ ability to keep the government in check and to provide real-time feedback on the impact of government’s activities on the citizenry.

“It is worrisome that, at a time when the country faces a real existential crisis and totters on the brink of implosion from acute challenges such as widespread insecurity manifesting in banditry, kidnapping and the activities of armed non-state actors across the Federation, coupled with the parlous state of the economy resulting in ballooning inflation and massive youth unemployment, the Federal Government appears to be more preoccupied with stifling the right of Nigerian citizens to freely express themselves on social media and elsewhere.

“It is imperative to state that Nigeria operates a Constitutional democracy which guarantees the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all citizens. At the core of these freedoms is the right to free speech, for this is the foundation upon which any democratic society is built.

“The respected American broadcast Journalist Walter Cronkite succinctly captured it when he said that “Freedom of the Press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” Any attempt to stifle free speech is therefore not only evidently unconstitutional, but in violent contravention of the very ethos of democracy.

“Therefore, we condemn the Federal Government’s decision to suspend Twitter in the strongest possible terms and call on the authorities to immediately rescind this decision in the interest of free speech and the rule of law, indeed in the interest of democracy.

“More so, this brash and rash action heavily lowers the image of Nigeria in the comity of democratic nations.

“The directive to the NBC by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture to license social media operators is also a surreptitious attempt to introduce the unpopular ‘Social Media Bill’ by mere executive fiat.  This, in our view, is a grave violation of the doctrine of separation of powers and an erosion of the rule of law.

“Whilst, these manifestly undemocratic actions of government on its own are grave enough, we fear that it may be a precursor to more ominous actions of blotting out dissenting voices.

“It is a known fact that as non performing, fragile or failed governments face increasing criticism from its citizenry, out of desperation, they resort to more draconian and lawless actions to intimidate and cow the citizens to consolidate its hold on power by brute force.

“As members and leaders of the People’s Democratic Party (P.DP) Caucus in the House of Representatives of the National Assembly, our objectives are to ensure compliance with the rule of law, good governance, the preservation of law and order, fidelity to the principles of constitutionalism and the general adherence to democratic ethos and principles in public administration throughout the length and breadth of the Federation.

“In the discharge of our foremost duty as custodians of the Constitution and representatives of the Nigeria people, we hereby request the Federal Government to immediately reverse the decision to suspend the access of Nigerian citizens to Twitter.

“We also call on the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture to immediately rescind its directive to the NBC to begin the licensing of social media operators in the Country, having regard to the absence of any enabling legislative framework for such directive.

“We hereby give you NOTICE that in the event of the failure, refusal and or neglect of the Federal Government to withdraw, reverse and/or cease the implementation of these oppressive and unconstitutional actions, we shall be constrained to institute legal proceedings at the appropriate judicial venue within the shortest possible time”.

The position of the PDP Reps comes 24 hours after the minority caucus of the House fired the federal government for the action against Twitter in Nigeria.

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