The controversy trailing the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria took another dimension on Wednesday as Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, distanced the presidency from ongoing attempts at the National Assembly to amend the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act.
Recall that there had been speculations that following the suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government, there has been some underground moves to muzzle the media through repeal of the Acts establishing the Nigerian Press Council and the National Broadcasting Commission, a move that has drawn condemnation from stakeholders.
Adesina rose to the defence of the presidency while fielding questions from State House correspondents after the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday.
According to him, the initiative is a Federal Government thing that only the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, was competent to address.
Asked to comment on the issue, he said: “That is not strictly a presidency thing because the president has nothing to do with that. It’s a government thing and it’s the minister that can talk about it. So, thank you.”
Asked to react to ECOWAS Court ruling against Nigeria for suspending the micro-blogging platform, Twitter, Adesina said, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, is studying the ruling issued by the ECOWAS Court to the effect that Twitter users cannot be arrested or prosecuted.
He said the AGF would advise the Federal Government on the next step to take.
The presidential media aide also affirmed that the committee made up of ministers to engage with Twitter has begun to meet.
“The Attorney-General of the Federation is going to study that report and then he’ll advise government on the way forward.
“The committee set up by the president to engage with Twitter is actually holding a meeting about now, or it will hold a meeting this afternoon (Wednesday) towards engaging with Twitter.”
Adesina equally disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved that the second Peer Review Country Self-Assessment Report should be done.
He said: “The only thing of interest I would like to talk about is the second Peer Review Country Self-Assessment Report.
“Nigeria is ready for the second Peer Review Country Self-Assessment Report to be done by AUDA-NEPAD. I think the last self-assessment report was done 10 years ago in Nigeria. Now, Nigeria is ready for the second review self-assessment report.
“It’s been discussed at the council and the president has granted the approval that that peer review report can be conducted on Nigeria.
“Actually, if you have an insight into the report that was presented, which the woman in charge of NEPAD, Mrs. Akobundu, can give you, Nigeria has made progress in several areas and on several fronts.
“While 10 years ago, petroleum contributed more than 70%, even up to 90%, to GDP, you will find that today, petroleum contributes just about 45% and non-oil products contribute about 55% to the Nigerian economy.
“So, if Nigeria had been talking of diversification for 40, 50, 60 years, the economy can now be said to be diversified because our GDP, non-oil revenue, contributes about 55% to 45% of oil.
“So, it’s one of the highlights of the Peer Review Country Self-Assessment Report that was presented at the council meeting today. Details of that can be gotten from the AUDA-NEPAD office.
“That is the only thing we can talk about FEC today. If there’s any question, then I’ll gladly take. Yes. Yes, thank you.”
The meeting which held at the conference hall of the First Lady’s office, State House, Abuja, has Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, and Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari in attendance.
Also in attendance were Ministers of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; Finance Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Defence, retired Bashir Magashi; Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, as well as Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami.
The Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Folashade Yemi-Esan, and other ministers attended virtually from their various offices in Abuja.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has filed a process before the ECOWAS Court, insisting that the suspension of microblogging platform, Twitter, does not amount to human rights violations in the country.
The ECOWAS Court of Justice sitting in Abuja, had on Tuesday “restrained the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and its agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter and/ or any other social media service provider(s), media houses, radio and television broadcast stations, the plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
The ruling followed the suit filed against the government by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians, arguing that “the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalisation of Nigerians and other people using Twitter have escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of Nigerians and other people to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.”
But in a swift notice of preliminary objection to the suit filed by SERAP and 176 others, the Federal Government submitted that “the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is not a right recognised under any treaty enforceable by this court”.
Specifically, the Federal Government argued that its ban on Twitter does not affect the human rights of Nigerians and did not violate the freedom of expression of Nigerians.
It was the government’s contention that the SERAP suit relates to the indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and did not in any way connect to any Nigerian or SERAP, insisting individual user’s Twitter accounts were not suspended.
“The right to freedom of expression is completely different from freedom of reach. The suspension of Twitter does not fall under the provisions of Articles 8 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights”, the Federal Government stated.
“Twitter as an entity is not an organisation of any member state as it is an American microblogging networking service. The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is not a right recognised under any treaty enforceable by this court.
“In the unlikely event that this honourable court agrees with SERAP that the suspension of Twitter is a fundamental right, the dissolution or liquidation of Twitter as a profit-making entity may as well open a floodgate and vest the users the rights of a non-existent right.
“Twitter is a profit-making entity which can be proscribed/dissolved in compliance with any national laws. The compulsory shut down of an entity cannot be termed the breach of any fundamental rights by this honourable court.
“The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is in compliance with the provisions of sections 420, 419 of the Penal Code (Northern Nigeria); Federal Provisions Act, and section 58 of the Criminal Code Act. The operation of Twitter is in violation of Nigerian domestic legislation.”
Furthermore, the Federal Government argued that the ECOWAS Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit to determine the criminalisation of an Act under Nigerian laws.
“The subject matter of the SERAP suit borders on the criminalisation of Twitter operation in Nigeria pursuant to the Penal Code and the Criminal Code.
“The use and operation of Twitter in Nigeria constitutes the offences of importation of prohibited publication under sections 420 and 421 or the offence of possession of seditious articles under section 419 of the Penal Code Federal Provisions Act”, it submitted.
“In any event there is a right of action vested in the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, the said right vests directly on Twitter and not individual users of Twitter. This is more so that individual user’s Twitter accounts were not tampered but only the operation of Twitter.
“Nigerians and SERAP have no cause of action. The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is in compliance with the provisions of sections 420, 419 of the Penal Code and section 58 of the Criminal Code, and sections 78 and 79 of CAMA 2020”, the Federal Government lawyers posited.
*Independent Newspaper Nigeria