A row broke out in the House of Representatives on Tuesday when some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers protested Speaker Femi Gbabiamila’s handling of deliberation on the suspension of Twitter by the Federal Government.
Before they staged a walkout, Gbajabiamila had mandated the House joint committee on Communication, Information, Justice and National Security to investigate the legality of the government action. The committee was given 10 days to submit its finding(s).
The Federal Government on June 4 suspended the operations of Twitter, a United States micro-blogging firm. It said Twitter’s activities were capable of undermining the country’s corporate existence”
The protest by some of the PDP members erupted when Gbajabiamila ruled out of order, an observation by Caucus leader Kingsley Chinda that the 10 days were too long.
While the Speaker was about to read the next business of the day, Chinda interrupted, insisting he had a right to be heard. At that point, House Leader, Ado Doguwa stood and began to caution the caucus leader.
”Hon. Chinda, be guided” Doguwa kept saying some members, apparently indifferent, shouting “go and tweet if you want to.”
The Speaker had in his welcome address directed the investigative committee to invite Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed to “brief the House on the objectives, intent, and duration of the suspension on the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.”
Gbajabiamila explained that the report of the joint committee would guide the House in taking an informed decision for the benefit of Nigerians.
However, coming under matters of privilege, Chinda said waiting for 10 days would amount to the suspension remaining in place.
Chinda said “Mr. Speaker, I stand on Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, Section 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human and Peoples Right and Article 9 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights.
“As a representative of the people, I have a source of communication with my constituents, I have a source of interaction with my leaders. But in moving this, I must, with all sense of responsibility commend the steps you took this(Tuesday) morning concerning this issue of ban of Twitter. It was very proactive and very timely.
“But my concern is that as a Nigerian and several other Nigerians out there, the implication is that for the 10 days you have given that committee to work, this breach will continue. We don’t even know for how long thereafter our interaction with the Executive arm will last.
“While I agree with the submission of the leadership of this House completely, I will only want to add that for the breach of our fundamental human rights, particularly the right to a fair hearing, right to freedom of speech and expression, we should urge the Executive to, in the interim, reverse the ban.”
But the Speaker ruled him out of order, saying since the matter has been referred to a committee, it would be wrong for it to be revived.
At this stage, all efforts by Chinda to be heard proved abortive with Doguwa and Chief Whip Mohammed Mongunu insisting that he (Chinda) must be guided.