Nigeria: Twitter Ban - the World Reacts As Presidency Justifies Suspension

(file photo).
6 June 2021

Outraged by Nigeria's suspension of the microblogging and social media giant, Twitter, for deleting a recent tweet found offensive posted by President Muhammadu Buhari, the world yesterday condemned the decision by the federal government and concluded it was a violation of the rights and freedom of the Nigerian people to communication.

Some of the diplomatic missions that expressed their displeasure against the Twitter ban included Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom,the United States of America and Norway.

But the federal government, yesterday, justified Twitter's suspension, saying the outfit had become synonymous with the spread of fake news and misinformation in the country.

This is as the Telecoms Operators (Telcos) have carried out the instruction of the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to suspend access to all Twitter handles in Nigeria, saying they acted in line with the instruction given to them, in the best interest and integrity of the country.

To that extent, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) has said the federal government would prosecute anyone, who violates the administrative ban on the use of Twitter in Nigeria.

Condemning the federal government's decision, the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has declared as unconstitutional, illegal, null and completely of no moment a recent directive by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration to arrest and prosecute any Nigerian using Twitter.

Similarly, the Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN), in its reaction, condemned the suspension of Twitter in the country by the federal government and described it as "wrong and an overreaction".

Also, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), on its part, urged the federal government to tread with caution and immediately reconsider the suspension of the operation of Twitter in Nigeria and instead, seek other legitimate means of resolving its dispute with the company.

Sharing this view, the International Press Institute (IPI), while expressing concern over the suspension of Twitter's operations in Nigeria, described the action as detrimental to the free press in Nigeria,which it said uses twitter as a major platform.

In the same breath, the Oyo State Governor, 'Seyi Makinde, has counseled the federal government of Nigeria not to hamper the operations of thousands of businesses and services with its recent suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria.

On the contrary, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has called on Nigerians to defend the country's sovereignty by supporting the federal government's Twitter suspension, saying it was in national interest.

Meanwhile, Twitter, yesterday promised to restore access on its new platform to all Nigerians as parts of the choices open to it in the current circumstances, even as it belatedly deleted some bile tweets by Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

Responding to the backlash from the move against Twitter, the presidency though described Twitter's removal of President Muhammadu Buhari's tweets as disappointing, it however, said the social media outfit's suspension has nothing to do with the removal of the President's tweet.

Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, in a release, attributed the suspension of Twitter to a lot of problems associated with the media platform including misinformation and fake news, which have had telling effect on Nigeria.

He said: "The temporary suspension of Twitter is not just a response to the removal of the President's post. There has 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. All the while, the company has escaped accountability.

Nevertheless, the removal of President Buhari's tweet was disappointing. The censoring seemed based on a misunderstanding of the challenges Nigeria faces today.

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

According to him, this and similar crimes, which have been fueled by social media networks risk seeping into the fabric of an emerging digital culture.

He emphasised that major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities and that "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, according to him, could tear some countries apart.

He stressed that 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 tweets, which should have been read in full.

The release stated: "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 promotion of hate, but a pledge to uphold citizens' right to freedom from harm. The government cannot be expected to capitulate to terrorists. IPOB is proscribed under Nigerian law. 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."

But some diplomatic missions in the country have condemned the ban of twitter, insisting that free expression and access to information were the pillars of democracy.

A statement jointly issued yesterday by the the diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Norway, conveyed their disappointment over Nigeria's announcement, suspending #Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media.

The statement read: "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 diplomatic missions, however, added that, "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."

In yet a separate reaction, the United States, in a statement by its Embassy in Nigeria said: "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."

The statement added: "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"

However, on the deactivation of access, the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the umbrella body of all licensed telecoms operators in Nigeria, in a statement jointly signed by its chairman, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo and its Executive Secretary, Mr. Gbolahan Awonuga, yesterday, confirmed that NCC directed them to suspend access to Twitter.

According to the statement, "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 Commission (NCC) the industry regulator. We will continue to engage all the relevant authorities and stakeholders and will 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."

Giving the implications of the action of the federal government on Twitter, the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), in a statement released yesterday, said ATCON was working closely with relevant stakeholders to ensure there is a speedy resolution of the current suspension of Twitter activities in Nigeria.

In its official statement on the development, which has seen the telecoms regulator issue a directive to the service providers to deny access to the services of Twitter in Nigeria, the President of ATCON, Mr. Ikechukwu Nnamani stated that while the Association and its member companies understand the position of the federal government, the reasons for the directive, and have complied with the directive, it is pertinent that the issue is resolved soon in the interest of all.

Nnamani emphasised that the Over The Top (OTT) platforms of which Twitter is one, is an integral part of the digital economy that the federal government is promoting, adding, so when an unfortunate disagreement arises with respect to the user policies, it is good it is resolved in a timely manner.

Other industry stakeholders, who frowned at the action of the federal government, warned against the implications, which they said may affect Nigeria most negatively.

Industry sources, however, said government seemed not to be concerned about the revenue and job losses that would come with the suspension order.

Although they projected huge revenue losses to government and the telecoms operators in terms of revenue generation and payment of taxes, they however said revenue generation appeared not to be more important to government than protecting its authority.

AGF Threatens to Prosecute Offenders

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), yesterday,said the federal government would prosecute anyone that violates the administrative ban on the use of Twitter in Nigeria.

Consequently, Malami, in a statement issued by his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, said he had directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation to begin immediate prosecution of those, who violate the federal government order suspending Twitter operations in Nigeria.

The statement read: "Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has directed the immediate prosecution of offenders of the federal government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.

"Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation at the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, 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.

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

However, despite the ban, a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, Senator Shehu Sani and others have continued to tweet.

"This won't be my last tweet", Atiku said while criticising the ban.

Former Senator Sani while mocking the ban said: "I'm sure Baba will be asking about the 'meaning' of that VPN. Those of you from the North, if you want to tweet, take a train to Maradi in Niger Republic, tweet and return home. If you live in Lagos and want to tweet, just go to Cotonou, tweet and come back. Those of you from the South-south, who want to tweet, take a boat through your Creeks to Cameroun, tweet and come back."

Fani-Kayode, in a tweet on Saturday morning stated thus: "The suspension of Twitter by the FG has proved to the civilised world that they are weak, unstable, paranoid, insensitive, vindictive & delusional. It is a grave abuse of power & a perfidious, insidious & brazen attempt to deny the Nigerian people of their right to free speech."

In his reaction to the threat to prosecute offenders, a former Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, wondered how the government would prosecute citizens for violating an administrative ban.

He asked: "Under what law please? The ban is an administrative directive. Lai Mohammed is not a legislature and cannot create a crime."

Malami's Prosecution Order Is Illegal, Null and Void, Says PDP

The leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has declared as unconstitutional, illegal, null and completely of no moment a recent directive by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration to arrest and prosecute any Nigerian using Twitter.

The PDP asserted that the directive by the APC through the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, was not only downright ludicrous, but showed the frenzied desperation by the Buhari Presidency to muzzle, victimize, clamp down on innocent Nigerians and foist a totalitarian system on our country.

The PDP stated, in statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, stated that nothing in the extant laws, not even the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, constitutionally criminalised the use of Twitter by Nigerians or empowers the federal governments to arrest and prosecute any Nigerians for using Twitter.

According to the PDP, "For Malami's information, section 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that, 'a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law, and in this subsection, a written law refers to an Act of the National Assembly or a law of a state, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the provisions of the law.

"President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC are informed that there is no extant law that defined the use of Twitter as a criminal offence and there is no penalty prescribed in a written law for the use of Twitter by any Nigerians," the PDP explained.

The opposition stated that the APC-led federal government should also realise that the suspension of Twitter, in addition to its unconstitutionality, only suspended Twitter operations and not the use of Twitter by Nigerians.

The PDP, therefore, contended that the directive by the Attorney General to arrest and prosecute any Nigerians found using Twitter, does not have the backing of any law enacted by the National Assembly or any state legislative house, describing Malami's declaration as completely of no legal consequence.

"Malami's directive to arrest and prosecute Nigerians using Twitter is therefore an attempt to suspend the 1999 Constitution (as amended), a development which bears the imprints of the leaked memo in which Mr. President was reportedly advised to suspend the constitution and strip Nigerians of their rights and freedom", the main opposition party said.

Twitter Suspension Is an Overreaction, Says NPAN

The Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN) has condemned the suspension of the operation of microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in the country, describing it as "wrong and an overreaction".

NPAN, which took the position on Saturday in a statement by its President, Kabiru A. Yusuf, warned that the action by the federal government after Twitter deleted the tweets by President Muhammadu Buhari to the South-east insurrectionists, who have been vandalizing the symbols of state authority would not win Nigeria friends.

It, however, noted that the closure of public space would constitute a limit to public discourse and democratic advancement, further describing the ban as a futile exercise, because other platforms were more likely to suspect Nigeria's intentions towards democratic tenets and act adversarially towards the country.

"Twitter is a global platform for public communication that has expanded the frontiers of Free Speech and Press Freedom. It 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." NPAN warned.

The newspaper proprietors also noted that it was the threat of maximum state reprisal by President Buhari that Twitter found objectionable, in line with its corporate policy, leading to sanction on the President through deletion of his tweets.

It noted that it was not the first time Twitter would sanction world leaders for infractions against its stated policy as it did so to former US President Donald Trump, to global acclaim, when the latter used the social media to spread hate and instigate insurrection by a mob, which stormed the Capitol.

Although it faulted the federal government, the association also challenged Twitter to correct itself as its sincerity is questionable to the extent that it may have been hasty in sanctioning President Buhari while showing an uneven application of its rules against the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) separatist leader, Nnamdi Kanu..

According to NPAN, while Nigeria has retaliated with the cudgel against Twitter for alleged double standard in a hasty sanctioning of the President, the micro bloggers appeared to be pampering an unrestrained Kanu for using the same Twitter platform not just for serial hate speeches but for actually provoking and justifying violence in his separatist agitations.

Editors Urge FG to Seek Legitimate Means

The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has urged the federal government to tread with caution and immediately reconsider the suspension of the operation of Twitter in Nigeria by seeking other legitimate means of resolving its dispute with the company.

In a statement by Mustapha Isah (President) and Iyobosa Uwugiaren (General Secretary) respectively, 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 Nigerian editors said the action was an infringement on Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution and violated 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 discourse on Twitter", the Guild added.

The Guild noted that the federal government had in an initial reaction by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, condemned the deletion of President Buhari's view as an unacceptable tab on the president's right, saying that ought to have been a sufficient response.

"However, the ban at the weekend, of Twitter's operation in Nigeria, is an overkill that gives wind to the sail of critics, who daily accuse the Buhari administration of intolerance of opposing views.

"Certainly, the federal government has the responsibility to safeguard the unity, peace and stability of Nigeria and any person or group that threatens this must draw its ire. In expressing its anger, the federal government, however, ought to exercise restraints to avoid giving the impression that it is intolerant of opposing views and expression of opinion by individual and corporate citizens," the Guild stated.

Stressing its concern over the growing insecurity in the country, the Guild advised social media leaders, which provide micro-messaging services, to also beam their searchlight on the activities of those, who want to use their platforms to cause divisions and spread hatred in the country and the global community as well.

Noting the socio-political and economic benefits of the social media platforms, the NGE explained that strong democracies rely on both civic and political participation by citizens, saying, Twitter, has over the years, aided citizens' participation in the nation's democratic process.

"The Guild is aware of the democratising influence of social media platforms, including Twitter, in helping to check dictatorship and promote democracy worldwide.

"Twitter also builds a market research prospect for businesses to see what customers are chit-chatting about, their feeling and what is important to them about products and services", the Guild said, calling on the federal government to immediately rescind its decision in order not to deny millions of Nigerians, who rely on Twitter to provide services and earn a living.

The International Press Institute (IPI), while expressing concern over the suspension of Twitter'soperations in Nigeria, described the action as detrimental to the free press in Nigeria, which it said uses twitter as a major platform.

IPI, in a statement by its President and Secretary, Kabir Yusuf and Raheem Adedoyin, however, notedthe concern of the government on the use of twitter and other social media platforms to promote hate speech and disinformation.

"We urge twitter and other social media outfits to pay greater attention to the content they promote on their platforms, which violate their own rules. IPI implores the government to reverse the suspension of twitter operations in Nigeria and engage in meanigful dialogue with the social media outfit on issues of concern to the government," it stated.

Don't Hamper Businesses and Services, Makinde Counsels FG

Oyo State Governor, 'Seyi Makinde, has counseled the federal government against hampering the operations of thousands of businesses and services with its recent suspension of Twitter's operations in Nigeria.

He contended that the action by the Buhari administration was capable of affecting investors' confidence in the country.

In a statement he personally signed, Makinde called for due consideration from the government on the implications of its action, saying, "Twitter has become the platform for young people and indeed all Nigerians to exercise their fundamental right to express and publish an opinion."

The governor, who has a strong presence on Twitter, said, it became imperative for him to make the statement as the country debated the ban.

He, however, warned that the decision, apart from having grave implications for the image of the country, could hamper thousands of businesses and services, which Nigerian youths promote and influence on the platform.

He said: "It has become imperative for me to release a statement regarding the suspension of Twitter's operations in Nigeria by the federal government. As leaders, we should go beyond emotional reactions to issues and think about how our actions will affect the people we lead and our international ratings socially and economically.

"Twitter has become the platform for young people and indeed all Nigerians to exercise their fundamental right to express and publish an opinion. They use the platform to complain, argue and give feedback to government and its agencies who in turn, use these to improve policies. This is a fundamental point that should be kept in mind as we debate the necessity of this suspension.

"We should also remember that Twitter has gone beyond a source of communication for many of our hardworking youths in Nigeria. It has become a source of livelihood for many, irrespective of their political affiliations or religious leanings. Nigerian youths and digital communications organisations earn a living from being able to use the platform to post communications on behalf of their clients.

"Others who may not have physical stores also rely on Twitter to give visibility to their products and services. Furthermore, I believe the federal government should be actively interested in how certain policies and actions will affect investor confidence. I, therefore, use this medium to appeal to the federal government to reverse this suspension for the greater good of Nigerians."

It's a Challenge to Develop Own App, APC Tells Nigerians

The All Progressives Congress (APC), last night, called on Nigerians to defend the country's sovereignty by supporting the federal government's Twitter suspension, saying apart from the fact that the decision was in national interest, it was a challenge to the Nigerian youths to develop another app.

National Secretary of the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, in a statement Saturday, said, "APC urges Nigerians talented in the development of social media/software applications to seize the opportunity of the suspension of Twitter operations in the country to develop homegrown applications that could rival existing social media platforms and meet the need of Nigerians.

"Russia has VKontakte (VK), China has Weibo, among several homegrown social media platforms. The APC believes that the country has the potentials and talents that can develop alternative and competitive applications to existing platforms in the world. Twitter's suspension will undoubtedly serve as a positive trigger to unleash the creative potentials of Nigerians in the global digital space."

Akpanudoedehe claimed it was a challenge to the vibrant youths with such talents, adding that they would get support in the exercise from relevant federal government agencies as well as the numerous Information and Communication Technology (ICT) training and research establishments in the country.

He recalled that the APC had earlier released a statement asking Twitter and other operators of social media pages to use their platforms to check divisive and inciting rhetoric, particularly in Nigeria.

The ruling party said it tasked them on the important responsibilities to curb fake news, disinformation and hate speech, among others, adding that evidently, "Twitter failed to do this and even allowed their platform to be used by arsonists, insurrectionists and separatists in the country."

Twitter Promises Nigerians Access to New Platform, Belatedly Deletes Kanu's Bile Tweets

American microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, has promised to restore access to its new platform to all Nigerians.

A tweet by Twitter's Public Policy yesterday said open internet was an essential human right and would help Nigerians, who relied on its platform to connect with the world.

Twitter made the vow in reaction to the indefinite suspension slammed on it by the Nigerian Government.

Meanwhile, less than 24 hours after the federal government banned Twitter, the global microblogging platform has deleted 'inciting' tweets from the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, a separatist group agitating for the Republic of Biafra.

In the controversial tweet, the IPOB leader vowed to unleash terror on Nigerian soldiers deployed to the South-east. He also used derogatory words to describe some government officials.

"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," Kanu tweeted via his handle Wednesday.

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