Nigerians outraged, knock Buhari, Federal Government
Suspension illegal, we’ll challenge it in court, say NBA, SERAP
The Federal Government on Friday announced the indefinite suspension of the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who announced the suspension in a statement by his Special Assistant, Segun Adeyemi, cited what he described “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
According to him, the Federal Government has also directed the National Broadcasting Commission “to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.”
The government said the suspension would take effect soon.
The government’s decision came two days after Twitter on Wednesday deleted a controversial tweet posted by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on the Biafran war of 1967-1970 during which many lives were lost.
Buhari’s tweet, which was in reaction to ongoing unrest in the South-East, had read in part, “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 fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
But the statement did not go down well with many Nigerians who felt Buhari’s comments were insensitive, particularly as his regime had not spoken hard on northern elements causing trouble in the country.
Following widespread complaints, Twitter took down Buhari’s post for violating the platform’s “abusive behaviour” policy.
But the deletion of Buhari’s tweet displeased the Nigerian government, with its spokesman, Mohammed, accusing the micro-blogging platform of double standard.
Mohammed, who on Wednesday addressed the State House correspondents, accused Twitter of complicity in the polarisation of Nigerians.
“Twitter may have its own rules but it’s not the universal rule.
“If Mr President feels very bad and concerned about a situation, he is free to express such views,” Mohammed had said.
A member of the ruling All Progressives Congress had last year sued Twitter’s Chief Executive Officer, Jack Dorsey, for $1bn, for supporting last October’s nationwide #EndSARS protests by Nigerians youths, seeking an end to police brutality.
In a move many interpreted as spiteful of Nigeria, Twitter in April announced it had picked Ghana as the base of its African headquarters.
Mohammed had then blamed Nigerian youths for Twitter’s decision to choose Ghana over Nigeria to site its African headquarters, saying it should be a lesson that the country would continue to lose economic opportunities if citizens don’t desist to paint the country in bad light.
In the Friday statement, the Federal Government was silent on when the suspension of Twitter operations would come into force.
As of the time of filing this report, checks by Saturday PUNCH showed that Twitter was still up and running.
FG yet to communicate to us, says service providers
Checks by Saturday PUNCH on Friday revealed that the Nigerian Communications Commission had yet to instruct the telecommunication service providers in the country to block Twitter’s URL in furtherance of the move to enforce the indefinite suspension of the micro-blogging site.
URL, which stands for Uniform Resource Locator, is an address of a website and it specifies its location on a computer network and a mechanism for retrieving it.
The NCC usually writes service providers to block URLs of websites unwanted by the Federal Government as was done in the case of online news outlet, Peoples Gazette, in January.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that as of 6pm on Friday, the service providers in the country, such as MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9 Mobile, had yet to receive any letter from the NCC in relation to Twitter suspension.
When contacted, a director with the NCC told this newspaper that there had been no communication from the Federal Government on the suspension of Twitter.
The director, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authourised to talk, however, said the suspension would not be effective because it could be circumvented through Virtual Private Network otherwise known as VPN.
The director said, “We, at the NCC, are waiting for a directive from the Federal Government to ask service providers to block the URL of Twitter. However, as of 6pm, we have received no such directive. But how do they even intend to achieve that now that there is VPN?
“Look at it this way – blocking the URL is like putting an anti-virus into the system. And the VPN is like an anti-virus. Nigeria does not have a central Internet point and as such people will exploit the vulnerability inherent in each of the various networks to get to Twitter.”
Also, an official with one of the service providers told Saturday PUNCH that they had not received any directive from the NCC to block Twitter.
He, however, said the VPN could easily be used in circumventing the ban.
The official, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “The ban has cost implications as the networks will need to invest in procuring these firewalls and continuously upgrade them as people will always try to circumvent them.”
Also, another high-ranking player in the sector who pleaded anonymity said the telcos were duty-bound to obey whatever they are given by the FG on the Twitter ban.
He said, “I don’t want to comment on it because it is politically related. However, the telcos have to do what the FG wants. Their licences were issued by the FG through the NCC and there is a clause there they must obey whatever the government asks them to do. They have to obey.
“The operational licence was issued to operate as a telecom company in Nigeria. And they are expected to abide by the laws and regulations of the country. If the government has passed a policy or directive that I don’t want XYZ to be making use of the Nigerian server space, the telcos have to carry it out. Their licences were not issued by the US, and Nigeria has its sovereignty, its own legal environment that has a lot to do with the government. The telcos will have to abide by what the FG wants.”
Meanwhile, Spectranet, ipNX Nigeria Limited, Swift Networks Ltd., Vezeti Service LTD, Cyberspace Network Limited, Mobitel Limited, Smile Nigeria, ITClick Solutions Limited, and Netcom Africa are some of the Internet Service Providers in the nation.
Nigeria had about 33 million active social media users as of January 2021. WhatsApp is the most popular platform used in the country, with over 90 million users according to Statista. According to Statista, about 61.4 per cent of Nigerian social media users use Twitter, 86.2 per cent use Facebook, 81.6 per cent use YouTube, 73.1 per cent use Instagram, and 67.2 per cent use Facebook Messenger,
Nigeria’s suspension of our operations deeply concerning —Twitter
Reacting to Federal Government’s decision, Twitter said it found the suspension of its operations in Nigeria to be “deeply concerning”.
Twitter’s Senior Policy Communications Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Sarah Hart, stated this in an email response, according to TheCable.
“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,” Hart was quoted to have said.
Nigerians, others outraged at Twitter suspension
Meanwhile, Nigerians expressed outrage on Friday at the Federal Government’s Twitter suspension, with many describing the move as dictatorial and insensitive.
Some foreigners also sympathised with Nigerian citizens, calling on the Buhari regime to reverse the ban.
Apart from Twitter, many Nigerians also complained bitterly on other social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
Particularly, a cross-section of youths who have been depending on Twitter to advertise and sell their goods and services felt sorrowful that the move could affect their means of livelihood.
Some other Twitter users felt the move could signal that the Buhari regime was indeed targeting the media and impede on the citizens’ freedom of expression.
For instance, Twitter user @adetolaov said, “The real news is not the government’s suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria. It’s that the government wants to start licensing operations in Nigeria. The regulation of social media is the real aim of all of this. It’s right there in the Ministry’s (of Information and Culture) tweet.”
Also, Joyce Kareem, a journalist based in the United Arab Emirates, tweeted, “Unreal. #Nigeria govt bans Twitter indefinitely after its President Buhari’s tweet gets deleted. A nation of 200 million loses access to a social platform because one man is offended.”
Predicting Twitter ban in Nigeria, a tweep, @Art_of_Achalugo, on December 7, 2014, foresaw Buhari’s ban on the microblogging site, saying, “Vote for Buhari. Let him make a mistake and win. Twitter will go first. Then DSTV. Then all channels but NTA. Followed by dress code, curfew.”
The post went viral on Friday, garnering over 3,342 retweets, 3,288 likes, and 350 replies.
Responding to the tweet on Friday, the tweep said, “I hate that I’m suffering from being right.”
As of Friday, several hashtags were generated from the Twitter ban to express the citizens’ outrage, including #TwitterSuspendBuharis
Account, #TwitterBan, #VPNs #Dictatorship, and #Jack.
Sweden, Canadian high commissioners kick against Twitter suspension
The Swedish High Commission in Nigeria urged the Nigerian government to respect the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and information.
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“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 drive for democracy,” the Swedish High Commission wrote on its official handle, @SwedenInNigeria.
The Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Nicholas Simard, made a similar call on his official Twitter handle, @ NicholasjSimard.
Simard tweeted, “Freedom of speech, used responsibly online and offline, and access to reliable information are fundamental human rights protected by #Nigeria’s constitution and a cornerstone of democratic life around the world.”
The diplomat also stated that in ensuring the implementation of this human right, hate and inciting speeches should be curbed.
He added, “These #HumanRights should be fully protected, while preventing inflammatory rhetoric and hate speech that could fuel tension and conflict.”
NBA, SERAP condemn suspension, vow to challenge action
The Nigerian Bar Association, while faulting the decision, describing the action as a dent in the country’s democracy.
In a statement by its President, Mr Olumide Akpata, the umbrella body of all legal practitioners in the country, said the action not only violated the constitutional right of Nigerians to express themselves freely but it was also economically counterproductive, as it could scare investors away.
Akpata said should the Federal Government fail to reverse the decision, the NBA would have no other option but to challenge it.
He said, “The Nigerian Bar Association has noted with great concern the extraordinary decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria to suspend the operations of Twitter in Nigeria and, by necessary implication, the right of Nigerians to freely express their constitutionally guaranteed opinions through that medium.
“The Federal Government also directed the Nigerian Communications Commission to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria, which is, at best, yet another disguised attempt to regulate social media, restrict freedom of speech and shrink civic space.
“Whether one likes it or not, we are operating a constitutional democracy, the primary consequence of which is that everything must be done according to law; and government must be conducted within the framework of recognised rules and principles, which restrict discretionary power.
“The Nigerian Bar Association finds no constitutional or legal authority to support the peremptory action of the Federal Government to suspend the operations of Twitter in Nigeria and deprive Nigerians of their right to freely express their constitutionally guaranteed opinions. Beyond the dent on our constitutional democracy, at a time when the Nigerian economy is unarguably struggling, the impact of arbitrary decisions such as this on investor confidence is better imagined.
“Consequently, if this decision is not immediately reversed, the Nigerian Bar Association will have no choice but to challenge same in the interest of the public and our democracy.”
Similarly, human rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, described the suspension as “illegal and unconstitutional.”
SERAP gave the Federal Govermment 48 hours to rescind its decision, threatening it would drag government to court should its demand be ignored.
The group, in a statement by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, said, “The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is a blatant violation of Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information. The suspension has the character of collective punishment and is contrary to Nigeria’s international obligations. President Buhari must immediately rescind this unconstitutional suspension. We will see in court if the suspension is not rescinded within 48 hours.”
Soyinka, SANs, others knock Buhari for suspending Twitter
Similarly, Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, knocked Buhari, describing Twitter’s suspension as an act unbecoming of a democratically elected president.
The playwright stated that if Buhari had a problem with Twitter, he should sort it out between them personally, the way ex-US President Donald Trump did, and not rope in the right to free expression of the Nigerians as collateral damage.
Soyinka said, “Kindly add my total lack of surprise at this petulant gesture, unbecoming of a democratically elected president. 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 citizen 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.’’
Likewise, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who spoke in separate interviews with Saturday PUNCH, also descended on the government over the suspension.
Norrison Quakers (SAN) said Twitter’s suspension was a continuation of Buhari’s display of his military background and disrespect for rule of law.
Quakers said, “The President’s actions are continuous reflections of his military background. He keeps forgetting that this is a democracy.
Also, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said he was not surprised by the development.
He mocked the government, saying it should not stop at suspending Twitter but should go ahead and suspend Nigerians too.
Ozekhome said, “I am not surprised that the FG suspended Twitter. Twitter has always been a platform for Nigerians to air their views. Nigerians have always used the platform to expose the inadequacies of the government and like I have always said, the government does not like criticism.
“The owners of Twitter won’t even care if Nigeria is not on their list or even notice it. It is like a drop of water in the ocean, it is just the Nigerian people who will suffer for it.
“As it stands, I want to appeal to them to go further. Don’t just stop by suspending Twitter. Let them go ahead and suspend the Nigerian people and then bring in a new set of Nigerians since they don’t want to listen to criticism.”
Afam Osigwe (SAN) described the government’s action as worrisome, adding that Twitter had done nothing wrong in deleting the President’s offensive tweet.
Osigwe said, “This is very worrisome. The government’s retaliation is regrettable.
Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) said the government’s decision portrayed the country as being a banana republic.
He said, “If the then President of the United States of America could be banned from Twitter and he did not resort to suspending its operations, the President has made us look like a banana republic.
“Let us wait and see but I think it is a very bad omen and not in our national interest.”
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said the decision of the Federal Government showed that the President had suspended Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution.
The human rights lawyer argued that the ban was also at variance with the Freedom of Information Act which seeks to expand information and access to it.
He said he was sure that Buhari’s regime would soon ban international news networks like CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.
Falana said, “This act has confirmed the suspension of Chapter IV of the constitution. Very soon, Nigerians will be restricted to NTA and the FRCN as the only source of information. Media like Channels TV and others have been fined for embarrassing the government and they may be proscribed soon.
“The decision of the NBC to impose fines on media houses based on an illegally amended code of the Broadcasting Code is a rehearsal of the imminent proscription of local media organisations that publish anything considered defamatory or seditious by the government.
“With what has happened to Twitter, other media houses like CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera will also be suspended.”
Nigerians should resist draconian laws, its era gone – PDP
Also reacting, the Peoples Democratic Party called on Nigerians to resist a return to an era of draconian laws in the country.
The opposition party said it was regrettable that the Federal Government that had refused to create jobs was moving to take jobs away from enterprising Nigerians who “are using social media to market their jobs and products.”
The PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents, described the pronouncement by the minister as unacceptable.
He said, “We are back to the 1984 days when the government of General Muhammadu Buhari had no regard for freedom of speech or the press. His supporters said he had changed when they were marketing him in 2015. Now, is there anything to have proved them right? Nothing that we have seen so far to suggest that they (Buhari’s supporters) were correct.
Atiku mocks FG, Saraki faults action
Similarly, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar took a jibe at the Federal Government, posting on his Twitter handle, @atiku, to write “Hopefully, this isn’t my last tweet. #smile.”
A former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, also berated the Federal Government for the decision. He wrote on his verified Twitter handle @bukolasaraki, “No, Sir! This should not be the response from the president of a nation with a vibrant youthful population from whom #Twitter is part of their daily lives and a source of their income and livelihoods. This must be reviewed.”
National Secretary, Coalition of United Political Parties, Chief Ameh, on his part said, “The ban is high handed and shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Also, the National Chairman of the Action Democratic Party, Alhaji Yabagi Sani, said, “I think there should be room for dialogue. Nigeria has its sovereignty; it has the right to regulate things it feels could be injurious to its citizens. However, I believe, government should have invited the managers of Twitter to make a case instead of an outright ban.”