Three weeks after Nigeria’s House of Representatives set up a committee to investigate the Twitter ban, it has ended its investigation and has given its recommendations. However, it failed to comment on the lifting of the ban.
Recall that the Joint House Committee on Communication, Justice, Information and Culture, and National Security and Intelligence was created on June 8, 2021, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the ban. It was also to determine the legal basis of the ban.
The panel was to report on its investigations ten days after it was set up. However, its findings were finally listed for consideration by the House on July 1, 2021.
In the report, the Committee noted that the Nigerian government had already begun steps to negotiate with Twitter while citing the pros and cons of social media.
It recommended that “time be allowed for the Federal Government of Nigeria and Twitter to enter into the dialogue process that is already ongoing, so as to create room for amicable settlement on the matter.”
The panel also asked that the government consider the negative effect the Twitter suspension has had on Nigerians who depend on the platform for their livelihood.
While it admonished the government to better communicate its intentions with Nigerians, the Committee also noted that freedom of expression is not an absolute right. Although the liberty must be protected at all times, it must also be considered alongside national security issues.
On several issues, the Committee re-echoed comments made by Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House, on the day it was set up.
The microblogging site was banned after it deleted a tweet by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, for violating its policy.
Subsequently, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) directed media houses to stop using Twitter indefinitely. Also, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, ordered the arrest of persons found using the platform after the ban.
Recall also that the ECOWAS Court had restrained the Nigerian government from imposing further sanctions on Twitter on June 22, 2021. The suit comes up for hearing on July 6, 2021.
Nigerians have since resorted to using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to circumvent the ban. A practice that may have far-reaching implications, as we have explored.
Research by Top10VPN shows that Nigeria lost $12 million in 48 hours due to the ban. An issue that bears some scrutiny considering sub-Saharan countries lost $237.4 million in 2020 due to social media and Internet shutdowns.
There are conflicting reports on the aftermath of the presentation of the report. While Punch merely reports that the panel failed to recommend the lifting of the ban, other publications like Vanguard and The Sun say that the House rejected the lifting of the ban.
While we await clarification, it is important to note that while setting up the Committee, Gbajabiamila mentioned that the report would guide further action by the House of Representatives.
Following usual procedures, Legislative bodies vote on reports immediately they are laid before the House. However, this case appears to be different. Coming days should reveal more on this matter.
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