By Lucas Ajanaku, Lagos; Tony Akowe, Gbade Ogunwale and Frank Ikpefan, Abuja
The Federal Government received more flak yesterday for suspending Twitter’s operations in Nigeria.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Yiaga Africa described the action as a dictatorial assault on free speech.
They said the ban lacked a legal basis, violated constitutionally guaranteed rights and lowered the country’s image in the comity of democratic nations.
Leader of the PDP caucus, Kingsley Chinda, said in a statement that the subsequent directive to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to license social media operators is a surreptitious attempt to introduce the unpopular ‘Social Media Bill’ by mere executive fiat.
He described it as a grave violation of the doctrine of separation of powers and an erosion of the rule of law.
The statement reads: “The announcement by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture also insidiously instructed the 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 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 Sixth 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.”
The caucus faulted the threat 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”.
“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 written law and punishment prescribed,” the caucus stated.
It vowed to challenge the “unconstitutional” directives if not reversed.
SERAP said it had sent an urgent appeal to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland QC.
It urged her to “apply the Commonwealth Charter to hold the Nigerian government to account over the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and the resulting repression of human rights particularly the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom, as well as a flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”
The organisation asked Ms Scotland to “urgently consider recommending the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth to the Heads of Government, the Commonwealth Chair-in-office, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as Head of the Commonwealth to push the government to take concrete measures to respect and promote the Commonwealth’s values of human rights, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.”
In the Urgent Appeal dated June 5, 2021 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “The Nigerian government has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not committed to protecting human rights.
“The Commonwealth should take a clear stand to ensure accountability of institutions, freedom of expression and access to information in Nigeria.
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“Nigerians can only freely participate in the democratic processes and shape the society in which they live if these fundamental human rights are fully and effectively respected, protected and promoted.”
SERAP urged the Commonwealth to publicly condemn the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria and put pressure on the government to reverse the unlawful suspension.
The PDP warned that the ban was a prelude to a clampdown on the media.
In a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party accused the All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders of being behind the ban.
The PDP said “revelations” available to it showed how APC leaders at one of their party’s national caucus meeting, recommended the regulation of social media in Nigeria.
The party said the APC had been plotting to obliterate internet-based interaction platforms like Twitter.
The main opposition party recalled how the APC has been pushing bills in the National Assembly, particularly in November 2020, seeking to enforce a draconian regulation of social media.
According to the PDP, the move was a veiled attempt to gag Nigerians from exposing the administration’s “atrocities, including human right abuses, treasury looting, nepotism and sectional marginalisation by the APC administration”.
“Nigerians can also recall how the APC administration, in carrying out the agenda of its party, has been using the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, to suffocate the media space with humongous fines and threats of suspension of operating license on broadcast stations.
“The PDP wants the APC to know that their plot against Nigerians have been exposed and cannot stand
“Our nation is known for her resilient citizenry and no leader or political party has been able to suppress the wishes of Nigerians.
“The APC, despite its machinations, cannot vanquish Nigerians in their determination for a free and democratic nation where sovereignty belongs to the people,” the statement added.
Nigeria will lose $6,014,390 (about N2.47 billion at N410 per dollar exchange rate) per day for blocking the operations of Twitter, NetBlocks has shown in its new estimate.
NetBlocks, a watchdog organisation that monitors cybersecurity and the governance of the internet using data-driven online service, estimates the economic cost of internet disruptions on its cost of shutdown tool (COST) platform.
Checks on the COST platform showed that a single-day total internet shutdown will cost the country about N48.6 billion in economic value relating to the global digital economy.
A non-governmental organisation, Yiaga Africa, condemned the suspension, saying it amounted to “shrinking the civic space in Nigeria.”
It asked the Federal Government to reverse the decision immediately and refrain from a further assault on press freedom, freedom of expression and free speech.
In a statement by its Director of Programmes, Cynthia Mbamalu, the organisation said: “The suspension of Twitter is antithetical to democratic principles and it portends a great threat to the freedom of speech and expression.”
The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Umuahia, Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, appealed to the Federal Government to reverse the suspension for economic reasons.
He said that the economy would suffer a further slide as a result of the ban.
According to him, each day Twitter or Facebook is banned, the country loses at least N1 billion.
The Bishop further urged President Buhari to initiate measures to douse the tension in the country.
According to him, “you cannot put out a raging fire with fire, rather you can only quench fire with water”.
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