The Nigerian Bar Association is set for a legal battle with the Federal Government over its decision to suspend operations of the micro-blogging and social media platform, Twitter.
The NBA National Publicity Secretary, Dr Rapulu Nduka, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Lagos, said a 13-member committee had been set up to handle matters relating to the suit the association planned to file against the Federal Government.
Nduka stated this as The PUNCH on Wednesday learnt that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami; and his counterpart for Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, would lead talks with Twitter.
The Federal Government has been under fire since Friday when the minister of Information and Culture, in a statement by his spokesman, Segun Adeyemi, suspended Twitter operations on the grounds that the platform was undermining the country’s corporate existence.
On Saturday, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, directed the Director of Public Prosecution in his ministry to begin the process of prosecuting violators of the suspension order.
But before Malami gave the directive, the NBA had on Friday threatened to institute a suit against the Federal Government over the suspension of Twitter’s operations.
Its President, Olumide Akpata, in a statement made via the social media platform, said government lacked constitutional authority to back its decision.
He said if the suspension was not reversed, the NBA would sue government to protect the country’s democracy.
The NBA National Publicity Secretary, Nduka, in the interview with The PUNCH correspondent, said the suit was delayed by the strike by judiciary workers.
He, however, stated, “A committee has already been set up by the NBA to handle matters related to the intended suit. The members of the committee will do whatever it takes to address the issue.”
According to Nduka, the committee in charge of the suit is the NBA Public Interest Litigation Committee.
On Wednesday, he stated, “The mandate of the committee, among other things, is to actively take steps to reinforce the faith of society in law, bring solutions to societal issues and most especially, to check the abuse of power.
“The committee is chaired by Dr Charles Mekwunye, with Dr Olumide Ayeni (SAN) acting as its co-chairman. Other members of the committee include Dr Paul Ananaba (SAN), Kunle Edun, Aderemi Oguntoye, Boonyameen Lawal, Solomon Oho, Gloria Ballason, Malachy Odo, Olumide Babalola, Baba Isah, Amaka Ezeno, and Auwal Yau.”
He said the court, among others, would determine if the Federal Government had the power to suspend the operations of a company like Twitter just because the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was hurt by its policies.
Nduka added, “I must also confess that from the look of things, the Federal Government is trying to soft-pedal on the situation. We are watching and waiting for the courts to resume in order to take actions.”
The NBA spokesman said government initially stated that the ban was indefinite, but later claimed it was temporary.
He stated, “Hopefully, the government will retrace its steps and do the right thing. Whichever way it goes, issues like these need to be taken to court so that judicial principles can be made for future purposes.
“We do not only have the present administration in mind, some of these issues may arise in another administration and we do not want history to repeat itself.
“The motto of the NBA is ‘promoting the rule of law.’ It is unbelievable that the government has threatened to prosecute any Nigerian caught violating its order. I think the threat may have been made out of anger without recourse to its consequences.
“In the first place, under what law would such Nigerians be prosecuted? Also, what happens to the freedom of expression enshrined in our constitution which is a fundamental human right?
“In this light, we vow to protect and defend any Nigerian who will be prosecuted for tweeting, in violation of the Federal Government’s order. In essence, they have not committed any crime and we hope to defend them when the time comes.”
Senate keeps mum on Twitter ban
As the public outcry greeted the suspension, the Senate on Wednesday kept sealed lips on the issue.
Investigations by one of our correspondents revealed that the matter was discussed at an executive session of the Senate on Tuesday and the lawmakers resolved to keep silent on it.
The Spokesperson for the red chamber, Senator Ajibola Basiru, refused to say the position of the senators when contacted on Wednesday.
He said since he did not have the mandate of the Senate to speak, journalists should wait till the matter would be discussed at plenary.
Ignore Twitter ban, opposition National Assembly members tell Nigerians
But the Joint Minority Caucus of the Senate and the House of Representatives urged Nigerians to ignore the Federal Government
The opposition lawmakers stated this in a statement by the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu.
The group condemned the ban on Twitter by the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government, saying it was draconian and unacceptable.
The group called on Nigerians to go ahead and use their Twitter as they would not be contravening any law in Nigeria or any international
Ubani plans to sue Malami, others over Twitter ban
Also, the Chairman of the NBA Section of Public Interest and Development Law, Dr Monday Ubani, on Wednesday said he would sue Malami over the ban.
While speaking to The PUNCH, Ubani said Buhari’s regime had violated his rights.
He stated, “As a Nigerian citizen with full rights as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), I shall be proceeding to the court alongside other Twitter users whose rights have been violated, to seek immediate remedy to the wrongs meted out to us by this illegal ban.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Chief Malcolm Omirhobo, has asked the ECOWAS Court of Justice to void the suspension.
In the suit he filed on Wednesday, the lawyer contended that through the suspension order, the Federal Government had denied him access to his Twitter and thus violated his “rights to freedom of association, speech and expression.”
Twitter must register with CAC, says FG
But the Federal Government on Wednesday said Twitter must register as a business concern in Nigeria as part of conditions to be met before the suspension placed on its operations could be lifted.
The minister of information and Culture disclosed this at the Presidential Villa, Abuja after the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by the President.
Mohammed accused the social media platform of suspicious activities in the country, adding that it paid no taxes to the Nigerian government despite the revenue it generated from Nigerians.
The minister said, “It may interest you to know that most of the Over The Top and social media platforms operating in Nigeria do not have any office in Nigeria and do not pay taxes to the Nigerian government for the billions they earn here.
“That is not the best practice globally, and that is why we are insisting that for you to operate in Nigeria you must first be a Nigerian company and be licensed by the broadcasting commission.
“Therefore, any OTT (over-the-top) or social media platform operating in Nigeria must do so legally.”
Mohammed recalled that the National Broadcasting Commission was last Friday directed to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT social media operations in Nigeria.
He said the first step was for them to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission and thereafter be licensed by the NBC and then adhere to the conditions stipulated in their licences.
He added, “We have already advertised the notice to the companies concerned to apply for registration of licence.
“The cardinal thing is that Twitter must be registered in Nigeria. Twitter must stop using its platform for activities that are inimical to the growth of Nigeria and its corporate existence.”
He explained that Twitter was suspended because it provided ample opportunity for elements who were bent on threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria.
The minister said, “As you are aware, last Friday the Federal Government suspended Twitter operations in Nigeria indefinitely.
“And the reason we gave was because of the persistent use of the Twitter platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
Mohammed also said Twitter had refused to censor tweets from the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, whom he said incited violence against law enforcement agencies from abroad.
He stated, “We’ve found out that Twitter is actually the platform of choice for a particular separatist leader who resides outside the country and issues directives to its members to attack symbols of government authority, such as the police, the military, the electoral commission offices, correctional centres, etc.
“And this is being done wilfully and consistently without any consequences from Twitter.
“You know, no country worth its name will tolerate that. And no company, no matter its self-importance, will force any nation to accept this,”
The minister accused Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, of funding October’s #EndSARS protests while citing facts from an online news platform, The Cable.
He explained, “I said Twitter funded the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria last year. And people have challenged it.
“And I’m glad that The Cable has done some fact-findings and their conclusions are as follows: they said the truth is that, fact-checking showed that indeed, Twitter played a prominent role in helping to raise funds for the #EndSARS protesters. Whether they paid directly, helped to pay or helped to raise funds, it’s a matter of semantics.”
He rebuffed claims that Twitter’s suspension was not effective, adding that the development did not stifle free speech as many claimed.
Meanwhile, The PUNCH on Wednesday learnt that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami; and his counterpart for Information and Culture, Mohammed, would lead the talks with Twitter.
Pantami himself had come under intense criticism on Twitter last month when an old material went viral on the social media platform which showed that he once had extremist views. The Presidency, however, came to his defence, stating that he was young when he made those comments.
A top source said long before the current suspension of Twitter, the Federal Government had been looking to partner the platform because it had a way of influencing young Nigerians.
The source stated that the NBC lacked the technology to regulate social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
“Pantami and Lai Mohammed will handle the talks with Twitter. In fact Pantami is the main person in charge of this because the NCC reports to him and it is the NCC that gives instructions to Internet service providers. It was Pantami that gave the NCC the order to block Twitter and the NCC passed the message to service providers.”
On Mohammed’s demand for Twitter, Facebook and others to be regulated by the NBC, the source said, “I don’t know how the NBC will regulate the OTTs because they lack the legal right and the infrastructure.”
Meanwhile, some activists have begun preparing suits which will be filed in court next Monday when courts resume.
A lawyer, Samuel Iheneskhien, who represents ‘One Love Foundation’, said he would be filing a suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday even as he revealed that the foundation had already filed a lawsuit before the ECOWAS court praying the court to declare the suspension of Twitter as a breach of African Charter on Human Rights.
“I will be filing processes before a Federal High Court on Monday,” he said.
Another activist, Inibehe Effiong, confirmed to The PUNCH that he would be heading to court next week.
“Yes, I will be heading to court to challenge the suspension of Twitter and other issues. I know others will be doing the same now that court workers have called off the strike,” he said.