The United States of America, the United Kingdom (UK), European Union (EU), Canada and Republic of Ireland have stood their ground on their earlier position that the ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government violates freedom of expression of Nigerians.
Ambassadors of the five countries maintained at a meeting with the federal government yesterday that the suspension of operations of the microblogging site was unconstitutional irrespective of concerns by the Nigerian government that the platform was being used to perpetrate hate speech, criminality and threatening Nigeria’s unity.
Nigeria’s minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed had on Friday announced the ban a day after Twitter had deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet on the ground that it allegedly suggested genocidal intentions against the people of the South East where Nnamdi Kanu is instigating secessionist activities with his Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
On Saturday, Attorney-general of the Federation (AGF) and minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, ordered the prosecution of any Nigerian still using the micro-blogging site.
Immediately after the reaction by the US, the other four countries had in a joint statement they issued on Saturday condemned the ban on the American microblogging social media network.
The ambassadors of the five countries were invited yesterday by the minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, to explain the reasons behind such alleged brazen criticisms of policies of the Nigerian government.
Speaking on behalf of the five envoys of the countries and their representatives at the meeting with Onyeama, which was held behind closed doors, US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, told the Nigerian minister of Foreign Affairs that access to social media by citizens is germane to freedom of speech which in turn is a prerequisite for democratic culture.
“We recognise the official position of Nigerian government on the responsible use of social media but we remain firm in our position that free access to information is very important and perhaps more important during troubled times,” she said, adding that it is actually in troubled times that there is the need for individual expression and open conversation and accountability.
“We are here as partners and we want to see Nigeria succeed. It’s very clear that we are Nigeria’s strongest partners on issues of security and we recognise the daunting times in the way of the security challenges that confront Nigeria. While they are daunting, they are not insurmountable and part of the way to surmount them is the partnership of the people you see represented here,” she said.
Leonard expressed optimism about the Nigerian government reaching a common ground in its discussions with Twitter Inc.
Onyeama confirmed that the Nigerian government was in dialogue with Twitter on the best ways to resolve the matter and, perhaps, lift the ban.
The minister had earlier told the envoys that the Nigerian government is not against the use of social media but wants to see it used for global good and responsible communications.
He said, “We know the power of words and when you have that kind of power to manage and facilitate communication to billions of people. It has to come with responsibility. So, we are taking this measure to see to what extent we can rebalance this media as forces of good and stop them being used as a platform for destabilization and facilitation of criminality.”
Online Publishers, Deeper Life, Redeemed Church, Others Demand Immediate Reversal
Meanwhile, the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rescind his government’s decision to suspend Twitter in Nigeria.
GOCOP made the call yesterday in a statement signed by its president, Mr Dotun Oladipo, and general secretary, Mr Danlami Nmodu.
According to GOCOP, the suspension of Twitter is a major setback for online publishing and other businesses which rely on the social media platform for mass circulation and marketing.
He said, “We believe this suspension will ruin our businesses and shrink the democratic space. Even more, this action will leave many social media handlers who work full time doing legitimate businesses jobless. This will compound the already troubling unemployment situation in the country.
“We believe this action is more injurious to the survival of Nigerian young business entrepreneurs who rely on Twitter.
Meanwhile, in their reaction, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye and his Deeper Life Bible Church counterpart, Pastor William Folorunso Kumuyi, declared yesterday that it would be difficult for their churches to adhere to the ban on Twitter operations because it remains the platform of communication with their teeming members across the globe.
Pastor Adeboye in a series of tweets stated that his church will not be complying with the federal government’s directive that Nigerians should no longer use Twitter.
Adeboye wrote on his personal twitter handle: “The Redeemed Christian Church of God is domiciled in more than 170 Nations & Territories. The tweets here are in accordance with Article 19 of the UN universal declaration of Human Rights.”
In the same vein, the General Overseer of Deeper Life Bible Church, Pastor William Folorunso Kumuyi explained why the church will not obey the federal government ban on Twitter usage.
Kumuyi in tweets shared on his page noted that the messages were targeted at a global audience in more than five continents and over 100 nations.
“In view of the Twitter ban in Nigeria, please note that the content shared on this handle is targeted at a global audience in more than 5 continents and over 100 Nations and we share the content from any of these locations”, Kumuyi tweeted.
NBC Directs Broadcast Stations To Uninstall Twitter Handles
Meanwhile, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has directed all broadcast stations in the country to suspend patronage of Twitter with immediate effect.
A statement signed by the acting director-general of NBC, Prof Armstrong Idachaba, noted that in compliance with the above directive, media stations are to de-install Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source (UGC) of information gathering for news and programmes presentation especially phone-in.
NBC, while reminding the broadcast stations of the consequences of not complying with its directives, said it would be unpatriotic for any broadcaster in Nigeria to continue to patronise the suspended Twitter as a source of its information.
The statement reads in part: “Consequent on the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria by the federal government over the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining the corporate existence of Nigeria, the National Broadcasting Commission directs all Broadcasting Stations in Nigeria to suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately.
The statement said Section 2(1) of the NBC Act entrusts the commission with the responsibility to ensure strict adherence to the national laws, rules, and regulations.
NBC stated that section 3.11.2 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code provides that the broadcaster shall ensure that law enforcement is upheld at all times in a matter depicting that law and order are socially superior to or more desirable than crime and anarchy.
It also drew to section 5.6.3 of the Code which requires broadcasters to be mindful of materials that may cause disaffection, incite panic, or rift in the society in the use of a user generated content (UGC).
Reps’ PDP Caucus Threatens Legal Action Against FG
Members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House of Representatives yesterday threatened to file legal action against the federal government over the suspension of the operations of Twitter in the country.
The caucus said the government action lacked the backing of the law and would lower the image of Nigeria in the comity of democratic nations.
Leader of the caucus, Kingsley Chinda, in a statement, noted that the subsequent directive to the National Broadcasting Commission to license social media operators in the country was a surreptitious attempt to introduce the unpopular ‘Social Media Bill’ by mere executive fiat.
Chinda described it as a grave violation of the doctrine of separation of powers and an erosion of the rule of law.
MRA, IPC Condemn Twitter Ban
Also, media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC) yesterday condemned federal government’s indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria and threatened to lodge a formal complaint before the appropriate agencies of the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN).
They said the action is an unjustifiable violation of the rights of all Nigerians to freedom of expression and access to information, while also contravening the relevant instruments of both bodies.
In the statement which was signed by MRA’s executive director, Edetaen Ojo, and the executive director of IPC, Lanre Arogundade, the organisations noted that in its Resolution 362 of 2016, the African Commission has expressed concern at the practice by African States of “interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the Internet, social media and messaging services.”