Presidency Insists Freedom Of Speech Is NOT Absolute As Twitter Writes For Ban To Be Lifted

 The micro-blogging and social media platform, Twitter, has written the President, Muhammadu Buhari, seeking restoration of its operations in Nigeria.

The Special Assistant to the Minister of Information and Culture, Segun Adeyemi, who disclosed this in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday, also said the President had constituted a  team to engage with Twitter on the recent suspension of its operations.

These came to fore as members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday described the suspension of Twitter operations as ill-timed and dictatorial.

Recall that the Federal Government had on June 4 through the Minister of Information and Culture,  Alhaji Lai Mohammed, suspended Twitter operations on the grounds that the platform was undermining the country’s corporate existence.

The following day, 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.

The Federal Government’s action was heavily criticised by groups and nations including the Nigerian Bar Association, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.

On Tuesday, the  Ministry of Information and Culture, in a statement titled, “Twitter writes President Buhari seeking restoration of access in Nigeria,” said the President had approved negotiations with Twitter.

According to the statement, the negotiations will be led by the Minister of Information and Culture, Mohammed.

Other members of the team are the Attorney General of the Federation and  Minister of Justice, Malami; the  Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami; the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; and the  Minister of State for Labour and Employment,  Festus Keyamo.

The ministry also disclosed that the social platform had written the Federal Government seeking negotiations on the suspension of its operations.

“Following the indefinite suspension of its operations in Nigeria, for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence, Twitter wrote to President Buhari seeking to engage with the Federal Government over the suspension, with a view to charting a path forward,” it stated.

Action based on constitution, national security – FG

As the Federal Government set to begin negotiations with Twitter, the executive arm of government and some members of  the House of Representatives on Tuesday disagreed over the suspension.

The House of Representatives’ committees on communications; justice; information and culture; and national security and intelligence, grilled Mohammed over the government action.

At the investigative hearing organised by the committees, Mohammed listed the various legal provisions backing the action by the government.

The minister stated that national security superseded other considerations such as fundamental human rights.

Several members of the committee, however, criticised the timing and the selective action against Twitter, noting that other social media platforms were also allegedly guilty of the same offences listed by the government.

In his presentation, Mohammed explained the legal backing for the action against Twitter, saying, “It is true that many Nigerians have accused the Federal Government of an attempt to stifle the media and free speech, and we say not at all. There is absolutely no attempt on the part of government to stifle free speech and the media.

“While it is true that sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of the constitution actually provide for freedom of speech, it is actually qualified by Section 45 of the same constitution, which is to the effect that nothing in these sections shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other people.

We suspended Twitter because it became security risk, freedom of expression not absolute – FG

“The only reason why we suspended the operation of Twitter was because it was promoting disunity in Nigeria and therefore became a national security risk. The provisions of Section 45 of the Constitution leave no one in doubt that the provision of Section 39 of the Constitution on freedom of expression is not absolute. The right of freedom of expression within the contemplation of Section 39 makes it a qualified right in line with Section 45, which permits restriction of civil liberty in the public interest.”

Mohammed also cited Section 3 of the National Security Act from where the Department of State  Services draws the powers to preserve the internal security of Nigeria. “It is very instructive that any platform that threatens the internal security of Nigeria will not be allowed to operate,” he stated.

The minister referred to Twitter’s influence in the #EndSARS protests to back his claim, adding that the platform played “a very unsavoury role by making available its platform to retweet the messages of the #EndSARS protesters and also raised funds for the #EndSARS protesters.

The minister said despite the banning of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Twitter was being used by the secessionist group to direct “its people” to kill security agents.

The minister stressed that the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, especially Section 78(1), also supported the suspension of Twitter operations.

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