Reps splits over Twitter ban, PDP lawmakers stage walkout

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*Gbajabiamila

The House of Representatives yesterday said it would, within 10 days, investigate the factors responsible for the federal government’s decision to ban Twitter.

Punch reported that members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the House, however, staged a walkout in protest against the refusal by the speaker, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, to grant their prayer that the ban be suspended pending the conclusion of the probe.

Gbajabiamila, in his opening address at the plenary, stated the need to hear from both sides first before a legislative action would be taken.

The PDP caucus, however, called for an immediate suspension of the ban by the government until the conclusion of the House probe.

Gbajabiamila said, “The House of Representatives recognises that Twitter, like other social media networks, is an important tool for communication and commerce in Nigeria, particularly amongst the younger generation who have used these networks for enterprise and innovation with great success.

“The House also recognises that as the social media platforms have been tools for good, they can also be tools for bad actors. As such, the government has a legitimate interest in ensuring that these platforms are not used to commit vile actions against individuals and the state.”

The Speaker noted that proper role of the legislature “in circumstances like this is first to peel back the layers of the decision-making process to unravel the issues until we develop an understanding of the why and the how of executive decisions.

“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, that the leadership of the House has decided to mandate the House committees on Communication; Justice; Information and Culture; and National Security and Intelligence to immediately commence an investigation to determine the circumstances of the decision by the Federal Government of Nigeria to suspend the operations of Twitter in Nigeria; and the legal authority for the ban on the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.”

He added the committees were mandated to invite the minister of information and culture to brief the House on the objectives of the suspension “and to report to the House within 10 days.”

Much later, leader of the PDP caucus, Mr. Kingsley Chinda, raised a point of order to make an additional prayer that the House ask the Federal Government to lift the ban pending  the House completion of  the probe.

Gbajabiamila, however, cited part of the Standing Orders of the House stating that a matter that had been concluded by the parliament could not be revisited for a debate. He, therefore, ruled Chinda out of order, a decision that did not go down well with the members of the opposition.

The Speaker’s ruling had temporarily made the chamber rowdy as Chinda insisted on making his point but was prevented by several leaders of the house, especially the majority leader, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; and chief whip, Mr. Mohammed Monguno.

Chinda said, “Mr. Speaker, in the circumstance, for PDP members, we have agreed to continue to tweet on behalf of Nigerians. And if the Attorney-General (of the Federation) wants to…” He was interjected by those saying, “If you want to go, go.”

The leader and members of the PDP subsequently walked out of the chamber.

The PDP lawmakers after the walkout headed straight to the press centre where they addressed journalists to say the action was in defence of Nigerians.

In company with several other PDP members, Chinda stated that the caucus would sponsor a motion to demand an immediate suspension of the ban, expressing fears that the motion would be blocked.

Chinda also asked Malami to prosecute the PDP lawmakers instead of Nigerians who disobeyed the ban.

After the PDP members left the chamber, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Yusuf Gagdi, alleged that the opposition lawmakers planned the protest, recalling that he earlier read about the plan on a website.

In his ruling, Gbajabiamila said, “I think we should rest this matter. It is unfortunate that seasoned parliamentarians who should know better are behaving this way. But I believe that our duty as parliamentarians is to do what is right. This matter has been forwarded to the committees, which report back to us. That is what we are supposed to do as parliamentarians.”

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