The federal government’s suspension of the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria, has attracted condemnations from home and abroad.
The minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the indefinite suspension of Twitter in a statement issued in Abuja yesterday, citing the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
The ban puts Nigeria in league with China, Iran, North Korea and Turkmenistan, countries where citizens are restricted from using social media platforms.
LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that Twitter had deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet which read: “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War.
“Those of us in the field for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.’’
The action by Twitter was roundly condemned by information minister Lai Mohammed on Thursday.
The minister accused the social networking site of double standards for tolerating IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu’s inciting comments on its platform, but sanctioning the president’s tweet when he only threatened to deal troublemakers. He went on to question Twitter’s integrity as it concerns Nigeria’s wellbeing.
He said the federal government had also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.
However, another social media platform, Facebook, has also removed the controversial statement posted via President Muhammadu Buhari’s official page.
Following reports from many Nigerian users, Facebook yesterday removed the same post from its platform. “In line with our global policies, we’ve removed a post from President Buhari’s Facebook page for violating our Community Standards against inciting violence. We remove any content from individuals or organisations that violates our policies on Facebook,” the platform stated.
Soyinka Faults FG’s Suspension Of Twitter In Nigeria
Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, yesterday faulted the decision of the federal government to suspend Twitter indefinitely in Nigeria.
The literary icon expressed his “surprise at this petulant gesture unbecoming of a democratically elected president.’’
Soyinka said, “If Buhari has a problem with Twitter, he is advised to sort it out between them personally, the way Donald Trump did, not rope in the right to free expression of the Nigerian citizens as collateral damage.
“In any case, this is a technical problem Nigerians should be able to work their way around. The field of free expression remains wide open, free of any dictatorial spasms!”
PDP Rejects Suspension Of Twitter, Says It’s Draconian
Similarly, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has rejected the suspension of the social media platform, Twitter, by the federal government, describing it as a draconian action and a slide towards a fascist regime in the country.
PDP noted that Buhari was not the first president whose tweet was deleted, pointing out that when it happened to former US President Donald Trump, he did not deploy any act of coercion against Twitter.
PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a press statement said the suspension of twitter is a vexatious, condemnable and barbaric move to muzzle Nigerians, particularly the youths.
According to him, the move is targeted at to preventing Nigerian youths from holding the “overtly corrupt, vindictive and divisive Buhari administration accountable for its atrocities, including human right violations, patronising of terrorists and outright suppressive acts against innocent Nigerians.
“Our party is appalled that the federal government could exhibit such primitive intolerance and power intoxication because the social media giant demonstrated international best practices in not allowing the Buhari presidency to use Twitter as a platform to propagate and spread the Buhari administration’s hatred towards Nigerians.”
Refuting the claim by the minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed that the platform fosters activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence, PDP said Nigerians, particularly the youths, had been using the social media platform, largely, for activities that promote unity, as well as social, economic and commercial interaction in the country.
“Our party notes that Mr. Lai Mohammed, in his statement, failed to cite an example of where Nigerians used Twitter as a platform to promote acts that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence as he claimed.
“Of course, the failure to give any such instance confirms that the federal government is only out to victimise Nigerians.
The PDP spokesman asserted that the Buhari Presidency and the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration were only afraid of Nigerians on Twitter because of their evil machinations for which they dread the Nigerian youths.
“Moreover, freedom of speech is firmly guaranteed in our constitution and the Buhari administration should be ready to face Nigerians over its misrule.
‘In the case of any infringement, our nation has adequate extant laws to deal with such and not this move to gag the people.”
The PDP, therefore, urged President Buhari to end this assault against Nigerians by immediately and unconditionally rescinding its decision to ban Twitter, as such amounts to pushing the citizens to the wall.
“After all, it was the same Twitter that provided President Buhari and the APC the platform to campaign in 2015 and 2019. Our party invites President Buhari to halt this international shame by rescinding this ugly decision,” the party added.
Atiku, Shehu Sani Frown At Ban
On his part, former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in a terse reaction on twitter, said, “Hopefully, this isn’t my last tweet. #smile”
Rights activist and former senator Shehu Sani on his Twitter handle described the suspension of Twitter as a bad legacy.
FG Action Should Be Reviewed – Saraki
For his part, former Senate President Bukola Saraki described Twitter as having become part of people’s daily lives and a source of income and livelihood for most Nigerians.
Sarak said the suspension of Twitter’s operation in the country should not be the response from the president, as he called for a review of the decision.
He said, ‘’No sir! This should not be the response from the president of a nation with a vibrant youthful population for whom #Twitter is part of their daily lives and a source of their income and livelihood. This must be reviewed.’’
Jobs Will Be Lost, NYCN Warns
On its part, the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) has warned that millions of jobs will be lost if the federal government suspends the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.
Speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP yesterday in Abuja, NYCN president, Solomon Adodo, said jobs will be lost in the informal sector, adding that even government’s social media handlers could lose their jobs.
He noted that Twitter is a tool for disseminating information, adding that most Nigerians get vital information from its news feeds, adding that government had no justification for the suspension of Twitter operations.
“The NYCN has over the years seen the robust engagement of Nigerian youths on Twitter and other social media platforms. Although there have been few skirmishes here and there, but these operators have their guidelines to contain and control all infractions.
‘’Recall that Twitter earlier had issues with the former President of the United States Donald Trump and the platform recently also had a misunderstanding with President Buhari on his recent tweet. I must say Twitter has its policies and if the president goes against it, they can treat the issue between the president and Twitter.
‘’If the steps Twitter took is wrong, it behooves on the president and his media handlers to address it officially. The banning of Twitter’s operation is not good for us and we will be clear on that.
‘’This is a tool for disseminating information; we are in a modern age, and we get our news feeds from Twitter. There is no justification to suspend their operations. We will communicate our stand to the federal government.’’
Adodo said the council respects the Presidency and all other institutions of government but the case between the President and Twitter should be treated in isolation.
‘’Businesses are (operating) on Twitter and with this ban unemployment will rise. We are passing information to Nigerian youths and telling them not to engage in violence. We need all platforms to send the right messages. This is not a time to suspend any platform for an issue that can be easily addressed.
We’ll See You In Court – SERAP
Also, a civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), on its official Twitter handle, threatened to sue the federal government over the decision.
The tweet reads: ‘’We’re suing Nigerian authorities over their illegal indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.
‘’Nigerians have a right to the freedom of expression and access to information, including online, and we plan to fight to keep it that way. @NigeriaGov, we’ll see you in court.’’
Freedom Of Expression Must Be Respected – Sweden
Condemnation of the federal government action has also come from abroad. Sweden’s Embassy in Nigeria, in a terse post via its Twitter handle, noted that Nigerians had the constitutional right to exercise their freedom of expression.
It further stated that this constitutional right must be respected.
“Nigerians have a constitutional right to exercise their freedom of expression and a right to access of information. This must be respected.
“Safeguarding free, independent media and civic spaces for democratic voices is an important part of Sweden’s #DriveForDemocracy #TwitterBan,” Sweden stated
Twitter Expresses Deep Concern
Meanwhile, Twitter has expressed “deep concern” over federal government’s decision to suspend its operations in Nigeria.
Twitter’s senior policy communications manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Sarah Hart, told an online news platform, TheCable, that the company was investigating the development.
In an email response to TheCable’s enquiry, Hart said: “The announcement made by the Nigerian government that they have suspended Twitter’s operations in Nigeria is deeply concerning. We’re investigating and will provide updates when we know more.”
‘How Suspension Will Be Subverted ’
Stakeholders in the Information Technology sector and policy analysts have reacted to the federal government’s suspension of Twitter yesterday in varied ways, with some casting doubt about the possibility of a successful implementation of the policy.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP yesterday, public affairs analyst, Katch Ononuju, said President Muhammadu’s attempt to suspend Twitter will not work because the platform is on the internet where the Nigerian government does not have control.
He pointed out that Buhari’s was threatening genocide and Twitter warned him that genocidal threats were not allowed on its platform.
He said, “Buhari cannot touch Twitter; it is on the internet. If he has to do that, then he has to suspend the internet and that will not work. If he suspends Twitter, he becomes the first president to do so, and if that happens, the world will want to know what is happening in Nigeria. If Buhari is going to take a fight with Twitter he has unwittingly internationalised Nigeria’s internal issues.
“When Twitter decided to go to Ghana for its office, it was specifically for this issue: the Nigerian government is not amenable to allow free speech within our society. So, it was because Twitter cautioned him for threatening genocide against the South East and he goes on to say he wants to ban, it simply tells you that Twitter is in order not to have come to Nigeria in the first place. This is why Twitter decided to go to Ghana,
“Buhari is irredeemably incompetent in managing Nigeria’s diversity. This suspension will not stop Nigerians because there are other platforms such as Facebook that Nigerians can use. President Trump was banned by Twitter, he did not suspend Twitter’s operations in the US, but you can see a pretentious dictator like Buhari, who is not comfortable with the ways of democracy, is saying that he will suspend Twitter in Nigeria. This is laughable.”
A senior official of the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, when contacted, said, “I can’t tell you anything because it is not within our regulatory purview at all.”
However, Chineze Amanfo, spokesperson of 9Mobile, told LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday that until the guidelines for the implementation of the policy are rolled out by the government, it is premature to make concrete statements on how the policy would affect businesses in the telecoms sector.
“The news just broke; nobody knows the guideless on how they are going to implement it. So, it is a bit premature to ask me from the telecoms providers’ side. I think we should watch and get more information and see how the new ban is going to be implemented. Everyone is watching for more information. This is what I can say for now,” Amanfo said.
However, Mohammed Jega, an expert in the IT sector, told LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday the government’s banning Twitter and trying to control the operations of social media is a huge task.
He said a lot of steps need to be taken, and even if government removes Twitter from the IPO, some people can access it through VPN.
“It is something that is not immediate. Developed nations were able to put systems in place and to control the accessibility of the platform to its citizens.
“Dubai has a huge control over the use of internet and different devices like WhatsApp, but people still go around it. People still communicate on WhatsApp and call through VPN, not to talk of Nigerians who are very intelligent. Twitter does not have any outlet in Nigeria; it is a virtual platform and everybody’s phone has it embedded in them.
“People will choose other options to conduct their businesses. Nigerians are high users of the internet, Nigeria is among the top five in the world in terms of Twitter users. Nigerians made Twitter very attractive and interesting. I think the government should take a better step in taking action on this. This is no man’s land,” he said.