The federal government blocked access to Twitter, an American microblogging and social networking service, in violation of the regulatory framework under the Nigerian Communications Act, correspondences between the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Global Rights have alleged.

Under the regulatory framework, correspondences further disclosed, the apex government is required to issue regulatory directive to service providers following legally stipulated directions – to wit: exposure draft for comments.

These are revealed in a letter by the Executive Director, Global Rights, Ms Abiodun Baiyewu to Executive Vice Chairman/CEO, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta on July 9 seeking details under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 about Twitter’s ban.

In two replies signed by its Director, Legal & Regulatory Services, Josephine Amuwa and Head, Legal Registry Services Unit, Jerry Ugwu, however, the NCC defended its decision not to make public details about compliance with the regulatory framework before consumers were denied access to Twitter.

Specifically, the NCC, in its July 5 reply to the request, cited security reasons for its refusal to release details about its compliance with the regulatory framework before it issued directive the blocked access to Twitter on June 4.

Rather than issuing a regulatory directive on the conduct of Twitter, the letter revealed that the federal government only issued a press release directing telecom operators to block all users from accessing Twitter nationwide, a clear violation of the provision of the NCC Act.

The letter argued that the directive of the NCC to telecom operators “to block consumers access to Twitter did not follow due process as provided under the NCC Act,” observing that a press release “is not a regulatory directive” the legislation envisaged under its Section 53 (1-2).

As stipulated in the Act, for instance, Section 53(1) mandated the commission “to issue directions in writing to any person regarding the compliance or non-compliance of any licence conditions or provisions of this Act or its subsidiary legislation, including, but not limited to the remedy of a breach of any licence condition or the provisions of this Act or its subsidiary legislation.

Section 53(2) provided that the NCC “shall, before issuing a direction under subsection (1) of this section, issue a notice in writing to the person specifying the nature of required compliance and the person shall be granted an opportunity to be heard or may submit a written submission within a reasonable time period specified in the notice on the reasons for his conduct or activity.”

Beyond the provisions of Section 53 (1-2) that makes mandatory issuance of regulatory directive, Section 57 (1) provided that the Commission “may hold a public inquiry on any matter of a general nature that relates to the administration of this Act or its subsidiary legislation which will serve the objects of this Act.”

Sections 58-60, 70-72 and 146-148 of the NCC Act provided further regulatory directives, guidelines and procedures, which the regulator was bound to duly observe or which required the regulator to widely consult with service providers in the telecommunication industry before arriving at agreed positions.

The letter, thus, raised two fundamental issues, which it entreated the commission to resolve consistent with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

The first bordered on whether the NCCC issued “a regulatory directive to service providers following legally stipulated directions – to wit: exposure draft for comments, which were finetuned and adopted in line with the regulatory framework.”

The second sought to find out whether the threshold of the regulatory framework under the NCC Act was met, pointing out that any activity of the NCC that flouted the provisions of the Act or its protocols would be ultra vires.

Based on its review of the whole process, the letter said: “We are of the opinion that the directive of the NCC to telecom operators to block access to Twitter did not follow due process as provided under the NCC Act.”

In its June 17 reply, the NCC acknowledged receipt of the letter of Global Rights dated June 9 in respect of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011: Directive Banning Access to Twitter in Nigeria.

It thus read: “Kindly note that we are currently reviewing your request. However, as provided for in Section 6 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, we hereby request for an extension of time of a further seven days to enable us to respond accordingly.”

In another reply dated July 5 and signed by NCC Director, Legal & Regulatory Services, Josephine Amuwa and Head, Legal Registry Services Unit, Jerry Ugwu, the NCC refused to provide details of its compliance with the regulatory framework under the Act before access to Twitter was blocked.

The reply said: ”We have reviewed your letter requesting that the Commission furnish you with a copy of the Federal Government’s directive to telecommunication operators to discontinue access to Twitter.

“Please, be informed that the requested information borders on issues of national security and disclosure of the same, may be injurious to the conduct of international affairs and the defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the reply noted without providing details about its decision.

The NCC, thus, justified its refusal to prove its compliance with the regulatory framework under its Act, noting that it was unable to accede to the request in line with provisions of Section 11 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

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