Twitter suspension in Nigeria exposes spineless Senate's shame, again [Pulse Editor's Opinion]

The 9th Senate has given Buhari too much room to trample on the nation's democratic foundations.

Nigerian senators [Tope Brown]

Even before the 9th National Assembly was inaugurated in June 2019, it was already declared by many as the rubber stamp and the plaything of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Two years since that inauguration, both the Senate and House of Representatives have done little to shake that tag, or prove it incorrect.

The president's autocratic streak reared its ugly head, again, last week when he decided to suspend the operations of American social media service, Twitter, in Nigeria.

While many believe the decision was an outburst from previously bottled anger especially regarding last October's #EndSARS protest, Twitter's decision to delete his tweet, reported by many for being harmful, was the trigger for the president to trample on the rights of millions to access the platform.

The president has also used the opportunity to demand the licensing of all over-the-top media service and social media operations in the country.

Buhari's longstanding attempts to regulate social media in Nigeria is finally online, only through the backdoor, and without the due process of legislation he has been trying and failing at for years.

The president's Twitter decision has invited strong objections from Nigerians, and the governments of Sweden, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and the European Union.

But Nigeria's Senate, the country's most prominent lawmaking body, a chamber of 109 representatives of the people, has played a rather impotent role over the past week.

In fact, if, like me, you watched both plenary sessions of the Senate this week, you'd be forgiven for thinking the chamber existed in a different country, and not one currently filled with people questioning the constitutional powers of the president to do what he has done.

Buhari took a major decision last Friday, but senators simply resumed plenary on Tuesday and carried on like it was business as usual.

During Tuesday's plenary, they had a one-minute silence in honour of over 85 people recently killed in Kebbi, and another minute of silence for the recently-deceased Pastor TB Joshua; and moved on with regular business.

On Wednesday, they held a special session marking their two full years in office, with an abundance of back pats for their supposed achievements, completely lacking of adequate self-reflection.

When the Senate spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru, was directly asked about the issue during a media briefing after Wednesday's ceremonial plenary, he opted to make no comments as his personal comments could be misconstrued to be that of the Senate, and he had no mandate to speak about it.

"Senate will address the issue at the appropriate time," he said, but what time is more appropriate than at the moment when the rights of Nigerians are being trampled upon?

Lawmakers, representatives of the people, who are entrusted with implementing the desires of the people, were simply turning their back on one of the most pressing issues in the country at the moment.

And while the Senate was completely silent on the issue, the House of Representatives did attend to it, but in controversial circumstances.

Before a proper floor debate could be had about the issue on Tuesday, House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, set up a committee to investigate the suspension and report back in 10 days.

His pre-emptive move blocked later moves by lawmakers on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to pass a resolution for Buhari to reverse the suspension until the committee's work was done.

Some lawmakers walked out in protest, and the PDP caucus, including senators, stood in solidarity with Nigerians to keep tweeting, despite the threat by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, to prosecute those skirting the suspension with virtual private networks (VPN).

But that's about all Nigerians have been able to squeeze from the National Assembly of 469 representatives.

The Senate's next plenary won't take place till June 22, a timeline that gives senators wiggle room to escape dealing with an issue laying right at their doorstep.

President Buhari's six-year run as a democratic president has exhibited flashes of the dictatorial tendencies of his previous stint as a military ruler, and the Senate has enabled him with no decent checks.

The upper legislative chamber is currently led by Ahmad Lawan, a supposedly seasoned legislator in his 15th year whose blind loyalty to the executive is as obvious as it is worrying.

With Lawan installed as the head of a very influential independent arm of government, Buhari has had leg room to run amok and trample on the nation's democratic foundations.

The president is emboldened by the cowardice of the Senate so much that he knows if he takes a piss on the constitution, publicly, in the middle of the Federal Capital Territory, senators would hold a one-minute silence for the dead document and draw up an overblown budget to build a monument in its honour.

It's exactly why the president would nominate his own personal assistant on social media, Lauretta Onochie, for Senate confirmation to become a national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); not once, but twice.

Anyone that has ever accused the Senate, under Lawan, of being a rubber stamp of the currently overbearing executive was proved right, yet again, this week.

The 9th Senate has shown time and again that it is incapable of rising to its responsibilities to stand for and with the people.

The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is not only a suppression of the rights to expression of every Nigerian, it has also affected the livelihood of many, and blocked economic opportunities for countless Nigerian youths who have used the platform to try and stay ahead in a country with crippling poverty, a tattered economy, and an escalating unemployment rate.

And not only have senators not tried to intervene this week, as they should, they have willfully turned a blind eye to the agitations of the people at whose pleasure they should serve.

They should hang their heads in shame.

___

Pulse Editor's Opinion is the opinion of an editor at Pulse. It does not represent the views of the organisation Pulse.

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