The suspension of the operation of American microblogging company, Twitter in Nigeria by the federal government is to remain indefinitely until the company shows remorse, a top federal government official told THISDAY on Tuesday.
According to him, since the suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria last Friday, the company has not reached out to the federal government for dialogue.
However, the House of Representatives has waded into the dispute as it mandated its Committees on Communication, Justice, Information and Culture, and National Security and Intelligence to investigate the circumstances leading to the suspension of operations of Twitter in Nigeria and the legality of the action.
It also summoned the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to shed light on the matter.
But despite the suspension and the order by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), to prosecute violators of the suspension directive, many prominent Nigerians and some organisations have remained active on the microblogging site.
Notwithstanding his order, Malami yesterday logged on to Twitter, using Virtual Private Network (VPN) to bypass the blockade by telecoms companies that have blocked access to the site, to deactivate his account.
THISDAY also learnt that contrary to the impression given to the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth-Leonard, that Twitter was already holding talks with the federal government, the source said no discussion was going on.
Beth-Leonard had led heads of the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union and Ireland missions to a meeting with the Minister Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, on Monday in Abuja, where she said she was glad to learn that Twitter was negotiating with the Nigerian government.
But the source said: “As we speak, there has been no communication between Twitter and the federal government, and until the company does the needful, its operations will remain suspended indefinitely.”
The source said the federal government suspended Twitter because it had persistently made its platform available for the propagation of activities of persons who want to destabilise the country.
He said when the federal government complained, Twitter said the propagandists had not violated its rules.
“For instance, the federal government approached Twitter to remove a tweet by Nnamdi Kanu but the company responded that the material did not offend its rules,” he said.
He stated that even after that, Kanu used Twitter to ask his followers to kill Nigerian soldiers and police personnel and they obeyed.
He added: “If that is not offensive, what is?”
According to him, over the top (OTT) companies operate in Nigeria without registering with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and paying tax on the billions they make in the country.
This, he said, would no longer happen as henceforth, the OTTs would now have to register as Nigerian companies and would be expected to comply with the terms of their registration with the NCC.
“Anyone of them that is not registered would not be allowed to operate. Anyone that abuses the terms of its registration would have its licence withdrawn,” he added.
House Investigates Legality of Suspension, Summons Information Minister
The House of Representatives has mandated its various committees to probe the circumstances of the decision by the federal government to suspend the operations of Twitter in Nigeria and the legality of the suspension.
The House also summoned the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to appear before it and explain the reasons for the action.
The directives were contained in an address delivered by the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, at the resumption of plenary yesterday.
Gbajabiamila said the lawmakers were aware that the suspension of Twitter had generated a fierce debate, adding that the House has since the announcement been inundated with comments about the decision, requests for intervention and criticism.
He stated that the House recognised that Twitter, like other social media networks, is an important tool for communication and commerce in Nigeria, particularly among the younger generation who have used these networks for enterprise and innovation.
He, however, said the House also recognised that as social media has been a tool for good, it could also be a tool for bad actors, hence the government has a legitimate interest in ensuring that these platforms are not used to commit vile actions against individuals and the state.
According to him, it’s the proper role of the legislature in circumstances like this to unravel the issues until they develop an understanding of the why and the how of executive decisions.
Gbajabiamila added that the legislature must ensure that regulatory and enforcement actions by the government are in accordance with the laws, due process followed and the outcomes of regulatory decisions do not result in adverse consequences for the country and its people.
He gave the committees 10 days to conclude the assignment and report back to the House for further legislative action.
He said: ”We listen to the agitation of the people, but we also hear from the government so that from the abundance of information, we reach the level of awareness that allows us to discharge our role dispassionately. It is in service of our obligations under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and our moral duty to the Nigerian people.”
The speaker also decried the spate of killings across the country.
He said the attacks called for coordinated and targeted action by government at all levels to address the menace and save the nation.
Suspension Unprofessional, Ill-advised, Says Catholic Church
The Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) has described the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria as ill-advised.
In a statement Tuesday by the Secretary of CSN, Rev. Fr. Mike Umoh, the church said the action was condemnable.
“While the Catholic Church is not against regulations of media use, she abhors when such action is selective or used as tool for suppressing the people.
“This is one decision that will further paint this government in darker pigments as anti-people and anti-democratic,” he said.
Umoh stated that as a mark of the futility of such actions, even some people in the government are reported to have still used the facility after the suspension, while many Nigerians resorted to the use of VPN and remote proxy options.
Ezeobi Chiemelie in Lagos, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu in Abuja