A coalition of over 70 civil rights movement under the aegis of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room on Tuesday criticised the ban placed on the use of Twitter by the Federal Government, saying it contravened Section 39(1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.
The organisation believed that the ban was an indication that the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari, had a high level of intolerance for criticism and divergent views.
The NCSSR made its position known in a statement by three of its conveners, Ene Obi, Asma’u Joda and James Ugochukwu.
The statement read, “The government’s ban of the app for deleting a post made by President Muhammadu Buhari for contravening its rules, indicates the administration’s high level of intolerance for criticism and divergent views.
“Situation Room is deeply concerned about the subsequent directive issued by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, asking the Director of Public Prosecution to arrest and prosecute any person using the Twitter application in defiance to the ban.
“Going after citizens for defying a ban without legal basis contravenes section 36(12) of the Constitution, which prohibits the conviction of a person for a criminal offence except for an offence whose definition and penalty are provided by laid down laws.
“It is rather bewildering that Nigeria’s Justice Minister and Chief Legal Officer will be calling for the prosecution of the country’s citizens for an undefined offence, with an unprescribed penalty, under a non-existent law.
“Furthermore, the directive to the National Broadcasting Commission to licence social media operators henceforth and ordering all broadcasters to delete their Twitter handles appears to be the Executive’s attempt at regulating social media.
“A previous attempt at this, in the form of the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation bill, 2019 introduced in the Senate was heavily criticised by citizens, civil society and other stakeholders.
“It is pertinent to note that section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution provides that the media “… shall at all times be free to uphold … the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.” Therefore, the government’s preoccupation with regulating social and mass media is a sinister attempt to deviate from constitutionally established principles.
“Situation Room also notes the Federal Government’s condition to restore the Twitter platform if “used responsibly” without actually defining what connotes responsibly in this context. Thereby, leaving room for interpretation or misinterpretation.
“Research shows that Nigeria has the highest number of Twitter users in Africa, with about 39.6 million users as of November 2019. Twitter has been a communication tool for individuals, organisations and business owners, who carry out marketing and transactions on the platform.
“Situation Room is concerned that the ban will adversely affect businesses and may lead to job losses, especially among the youth, and general economic deterioration, in light of the high rate of unemployment and economic realities in the country.
“The ban reflects poorly on Nigeria and impedes on its chances of attracting business and investment opportunities, in a world driven by technology and speedy access to information.”
Situation Room, therefore, called on government to “lift the ban on the use of Twitter in Nigeria, as a matter of urgency.”
“The Federal Government must uphold all the tenets of a democratic society, characterised by fundamental human rights, which include the freedom of expression and the press and the right to fair hearing.
“Situation Room will continue to oppose every attempt to regulate social media, other communication platforms and other forms of oppression which represent attempts at stifling the civic space and civil liberties”, the organisation said.
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