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Twitter suspension throws Reps into rowdy session

By Tony Akowe, Abuja

  • PDP lawmakers: we will continue to tweet

  • CSOs at ECOWAS court

A row broke out in the House of Representatives on Tuesday when some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers protested Speaker Femi Gbabiamila’s handling of deliberation on the suspension of Twitter by the Federal Government.

Before they staged a walkout, Gbajabiamila had mandated the House joint committee on Communication, Information, Justice and National Security to investigate the legality of the government action. The committee was given 10 days to submit its finding(s).

The Federal Government on June 4 suspended the operations of Twitter, a United States micro-blogging firm. It said Twitter’s activities were capable of undermining the country’s corporate existence”

The protest by some of the PDP  members   erupted when Gbajabiamila  ruled out of order, an observation   by Caucus leader Kingsley  Chinda that the 10 days were too long.

While the Speaker was about to read the next business of the day, Chinda interrupted, insisting he had a right to be heard. At that point, House Leader, Ado Doguwa stood and began to caution the caucus leader.

”Hon. Chinda, be guided” Doguwa kept saying some members, apparently indifferent,  shouting “go and tweet if you want to.”

The Speaker had in his welcome address directed the investigative committee to invite   Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed to “brief the House on the objectives, intent, and duration of the suspension on the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.”

Gbajabiamila explained that  the report of the joint committee would  guide the House in taking an informed decision for the benefit of Nigerians.

However, coming under matters of privilege, Chinda said waiting for 10  days would amount to the suspension remaining in place.

Chinda  said “Mr. Speaker, I stand on Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, Section 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human and Peoples Right and Article 9 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights.

“As a representative of the people, I have a source of communication with my constituents, I have a source of interaction with my leaders. But in moving this, I must, with all sense of responsibility commend the steps you took this(Tuesday) morning concerning this issue of ban of Twitter. It was very proactive and very timely.

“But my concern is that as a Nigerian and several other Nigerians out there, the implication is that for the 10  days you have given that committee to work, this breach will continue. We don’t even know for how long thereafter our interaction with the Executive arm will last.

“While I agree with the submission of the leadership of this House completely, I will only want to add that for the breach of our fundamental human rights, particularly the right to a fair hearing, right to freedom of speech and expression, we should urge the Executive to,  in the interim,  reverse the ban.”

But the Speaker ruled him out of order, saying since the matter has been referred to a committee, it would be wrong for it to be revived.

At this stage, all efforts by Chinda to be heard proved abortive with Doguwa and  Chief Whip   Mohammed Mongunu insisting that he (Chinda) must be guided.

Chinda and some other members of the PDP caucus  walked out of the plenary, insisting that they will continue to tweet.

Also rising under matters of privilege, Adamu Gagdi alleged that there was an earlier plan by some members to disrupt the business of the House.

“What just happened is an insult to Nigerians and it shows that it was preplanned.  Some members of the parliament cannot suffocate the parliament. We should stop this conspiracy of going to stop sitting because something did not go your way.”

Gagdi suggested that the  walkout by the PDP caucus members “must be investigated”.

The caucus members later addressed reporters, vowing to continue tweeting. They said they were   ready to surrender themselves to the Office of Attorney General of the Federation and the Police for prosecution.

Chinda said: “The  Federal Government should lift the ban placed on Twitter in the interim, pending the interaction between the Legislature and the Executive.

”We have said that every member of the PDP caucus would continue to tweet. We are calling on the Attorney-General to leave Nigerians alone, do not prosecute Nigerians. We are their representatives.

“We will tweet. Any day you want to prosecute us, tell us the court and the time; we will be there ourselves to surrender to your prosecution.

“Do not prosecute any Nigerian, prosecute us – members of the PDP caucus in the House.  If you want to jail, jail us if we have committed an offence. We surrender ourselves on behalf of Nigerians.”

Gbajabiamila in a statement after plenary acknowledged the role of Twitter as an important platform for “communication and commerce in Nigeria, particularly among the younger generation.”

He explained in the statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi,   that the House must react to the development with caution, first by bringing the government’s decision under scrutiny through   investigation.

SERAP, 176 concerned Nigerians sue Fed Govt

Three non-governmental groups — Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), and Leadership Orientation and Basic Rights Advocacy Centre (LOBRAC) – yesterday flayed the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria by the Federal Government.

SERAP in conjunction with 176 other have sued the government over the action.

SERAP suit marked ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21 was filed  before the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja.

The group and 176 concerned Nigerians  asked for: “an order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing its suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.”

They also sought an order stopping the government from “subjecting anyone, including media houses, broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria, to harassment, intimidation, arrest, and criminal prosecution, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and rights lawyer,  Femi Falana, is the plaintiffs’ counsel.

The plaintiffs told the court that “if this application is not urgently granted, the government will continue to arbitrarily suspend Twitter and threaten to impose criminal and other sanctions on Nigerians, telecommunication companies, media houses, broadcast stations, and other people using Twitter in Nigeria, the perpetual order sought in this suit might be rendered nugatory.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the interim application and the substantive suit.

Also yesterday, HURIWA called on President Muhammadu Buhari to stop: “hampering the enjoyment by Nigerians, especially the youth of the economic, social, academic, and cultural benefits that come from associating with like-minded talented and creative minds from all over the globe through the Twitter platform.’’

Malami deactivates Twitter account

Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami has deactivated his Twitter account.

He took to his Facebook page yesterday, posting a photo and a caption that reads, “My Twitter account deactivated.’

The Attorney-General  at the weekend  threatened to prosecute Nigerians still using the Virtual Private Networks to access Twitter.

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