Nigeria: U.S., UK, EU, Media, Others Knock Govt Over Twitter Ban

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More reactions yesterday trailed the indefinite suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria following the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari's alleged inciting tweets against insurrectionists in the South East, with the United States, the media and other Nigerians joining to condemn federal government's action.

Nigeria's minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who announced the suspension of Twitter operations on Friday had cited "the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria's corporate existence" as reasons for the temporary ban of the social media platform.

He further disclosed that the federal government also directed the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, "to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria".

Reacting to the development, the United States government yesterday faulted the ban on the American microblogging social media platform, saying it violates the fundamental right of freedom of expression of Nigerians as provided in the country's constitution.

A statement issued yesterday by the Public Affairs division of the United States Embassy in Abuja, the US said the ban on Twitter operations is also a disincentive to investors.

Twitter Suspension Is Temporary, Says Presidency

It stated: "Nigeria's constitution provides for freedom of expression. The Government's recent #Twitterban undermines Nigerians' ability to exercise this fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses.

"Banning social media and curbing every citizen's ability to seek, receive, and impart information undermines fundamental freedoms. As President Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater.

"The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, alongside concerted efforts toward unity, peace, and prosperity. #KeepitOn".

Also, six diplomatic missions in Nigeria expressed outrage over the 'indefinite suspension' of the microblogging social media platform.

In a joint statement issued yesterday the diplomatic missions of the United States (US), European Union (EU) Delegation to Nigeria, United Kingdom (UK), Canada, Republic of Ireland and Norway, described the ban as a measure to inhibit access to information.

The statement made available to LEADERSHIP Sunday by the British High Commission to Nigeria noted, "The diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States of America convey our disappointment over the Government of Nigeria's announcement suspending #Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media.

"We strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline. Banning systems of expression is not the answer.

"These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less, communication to accompany the concerted efforts of Nigeria's citizens in fulsome dialogue toward unity, peace and prosperity. As Nigeria's partners, we stand ready to assist in achieving these goals."

Also reacting, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) faulted the ban, describing it as a wrong overreaction.

"The action would not win us friends as closure of public space limits public discourse and democratic advancement," it stated.

NPAN, in a statement signed yesterday by its president, Kabiru Yusuf, advised the government to backtrack from the Twitter ban, even as it also faulted Twitter's alleged double standard in a hasty sanctioning of Buhari while pampering an unrestrained Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) whose secessionist activities provoked Buhari's alleged objectionable tweets.

The statement reads in part: "Kanu has used same Twitter not just for serial hate speeches but for actually provoking and justifying violence in his separatist agitations.

"To the extent that Twitter may have been hasty in sanctioning President Buhari and shown an uneven application of its rules against separatist Kanu, its sincerity stands questioned. It should correct itself.

"However, The Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN), thinks that the suspension of Twitter's operation by Nigerian is wrong and an overreaction.

"The action would not win us friends as closure of public space limits public discourse and democratic advancement. It is a futile exercise in any case, as other platforms are more likely to suspect Nigeria's intentions towards democratic tenets and act adversarially towards Nigeria."

The association also informed the government that Twitter is a global platform for public communication that has expanded the frontiers of Free Speech and Press Freedom.

It further noted that Twitter is a platform for business that has brought relief to Nigeria's youthful population who have prospered by its operation.

"The NPAN believes Twitter as a business is not infallible and can be influenced through high level engagement, to be a more responsive, liberal platform of public good and not a cynical champion of suspicious causes.

"There should be a compromise: Nigeria needs friends and not enemies at this critical juncture of her existence. She should not play into the hands of the enemies who are relentless in seeking to destroy and ostracise her. Banning Twitter is regressive and should be rescinded in favour of dialogue," the statement added.

In the same vein, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) urged the federal government to tread with caution and immediately reconsider the suspension of the operation of Twitter in Nigeria.

It asked the government to seek other legitimate means of resolving its dispute with the company.

In a statement signed by its president, Mustapha Isah, and general secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the NGE said the federal government's action has the unintended consequence of jeopardising the economic interests of many Nigerians who rely on the social media platform for vital information to make informed business decisions daily.

Advising the federal government to desist from any action that would project the Nigerian government as a dictatorship, the Editors pointed out that the action is an infringement on Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution and violates the right of Nigerians to interact freely on this platform.

"In addition, the suspension is a grave breach of Nigeria's international obligations under article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"The Guild sees the federal government's action as an overreaction to Twitter's decision to delete President Muhammadu Buhari's tweet early this week.

"If the federal government finds Twitter's action against the President objectionable, Nigerians should not be made to suffer the collateral damage of denying them their right to freely discuss on Twitter", the Guild added.

Telecom Operators Block Access As Malami Threatens To Prosecute Defaulters

Meanwhile, following federal government's ban on the American microblogging social media platform, the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has blocked access to Twitter.

This is even as the Attorney-general of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) and minister of Justice has ordered the immediate prosecution of Nigerians who are still accessing Twitter.

In a statement jointly signed by ALTON's chairman, Engr Gbenga Adebayo and executive secretary, Gbolahan Awonuga, the association said its action was based on a directive by the telecommunications industry regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

The statement titled 'Order to Suspend Access to Twitter', noted: "We, The Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) wish to confirm that our members have received formal instructions from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the industry regulator to suspend access to Twitter.

"ALTON has conducted a robust assessment of the request in accordance with internationally accepted principles.

"Based on national interest provisions in the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, and within the licence terms under which the industry operates; our members have acted in compliance with the directives of the Nigerian Communications Commisison (NCC) the industry regulator."

The operators, however, added that they would continue to engage all the relevant authorities and stakeholders and would act as may be further directed by the NCC.

"We remain committed to supporting the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and upholding the rights of citizens.

"As an industry, we endorse the position of the United Nations that the rights held by people offline must also be protected online. This includes respecting and protecting the rights of all people to communicate, to share information freely and responsibly, and to enjoy privacy and security regarding their data and their use of digital communications," they stated.

Confirming the directive, a senior official of the Mobile Telecommunications Network (MTN) one of the largest telecom service providers in Nigeria, Funso Aina, told LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday that "the MTN is sticking with the position of ALTON on the matter."

Meanwhile, the Nigerian government has ordered the immediate prosecution of Nigerians who are still accessing the microblogging platform, Twitter.

The order was given by the AGF and minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), following reports that some Nigerians were still accessing Twitter through a virtual private network (VPN).

Despite the ban, some Nigerians are said to be bypassing the ban imposed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) with a VPN since early Saturday morning, the government's ban became effective.

In a statement signed by his special assistant on media and public relations, Dr Umar Gwandu, Malami ordered the director of Public Prosecution of the Federation, "to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria".

He also further directed the DPPF "to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication, NCC, and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay".

Twitter Deletes Nnamdi Kanu's Post

Meanwhile, Twitter has also deleted tweets posted by leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu for violating its rules.

IPOB is an outlawed separatist group agitating for the Republic of Biafra away from Nigeria.

Twitter's deletion of Kanu's tweets yesterday came barely 24 hours after the federal government of Nigeria suspended the social media platform's operations in the country.

In the controversial and 'inciting' tweet on Wednesday, Kanu vowed to unleash terror on Nigerian soldiers deployed to the South-east region.

He also used derogatory words to describe Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, as well as presidential media aides, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu.

Kanu wrote: "It's not for the living to respond to the dead but given the lack of reasoning prevalent in the #Zoo Nigeria, I wish to assure @GarShehu (Garba Shehu) , the Jihadi midget @elrufai (Nasir El-Rufai) & that Fulani lapdog Femi Adesina that any army they send to #Biafraland will die there. None will return alive."

Presidency Clarifies Ban

Meanwhile, the presidency explained yesterday that the temporary suspension of Twitter was not just a response to the removal of President Buhari's post.

A statement by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, noted that there had been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences.

Shehu said all the while, the company had escaped accountability, even as he noted that the removal of President Buhari's tweet was disappointing.

He said the censoring seemed based on a misunderstanding of the challenges Nigeria faces today.

He stated: "The President in his address at the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA in 2019 said "the world was shocked and startled by the massacre in New Zealand by a lone gunman taking the lives of 50 worshippers.

"This and similar crimes which have been fueled by social media networks risk seeping into the fabric of an emerging digital culture.

"Major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities. They cannot be allowed to continue to facilitate the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages capable of inciting whole communities against each other, leading to loss of many lives. This could tear some countries apart.

"President Buhari has therefore been warning against social media's disruptive and divisive influences and the government's action is not a knee-jerk reaction to Twitter's preposterous deletion of his tweet which should have been read in full.

"The tweet was not a threat, but a statement of fact. A terrorist organisation (IPOB) poses a significant threat to the safety and security of Nigerian citizens.

"When the President said that they will be treated "in a language they understand," he merely reiterated that their force shall be met with force. It is a basic principle of security services response world over.

"This is not a promotion of hate, but a pledge to uphold citizens' right to freedom from harm. The government cannot be expected to capitulate to terrorists.

Recalling that IPOB had been proscribed under Nigerian law, Shehu said Its members murder innocent Nigerians.

"They kill policemen and set government property on fire. Now, they have amassed a substantial stockpile of weapons and bombs across the country. Twitter does not seem to appreciate the national trauma of our country's civil war. This government shall not allow a recurrence of that tragedy," he added.

Defiant Twitter Moves To Restore Access To Nigerians

Meanwhile, Twitter has promised to restore access to its new platform to all Nigerians.

A tweet by Twitter's Public Policy yesterday said open internet is an essential human right and it will help Nigerians who rely on its platform connect with the world.

The tweet reads: "We are deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria. Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society.

"We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. #KeepitOn."

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