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.
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.
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 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.