ABUJA – The U.S. and the European Union voiced concern over Nigeria’s decision to indefinitely ban Twitter after the U.S. social media giant deleted a tweet from the president’s account for violating its rules.
International human rights groups have also condemned the move, which followed previous attempts by the government of Africa’s most populous country to regulate social media.
Nigerian telecoms operators complied with a government directive Friday to suspend access to Twitter indefinitely.
The diplomatic missions of the EU, U.S., Britain, Canada and Ireland issued a joint statement late Saturday condemning the ban.
“Banning systems of expression is not the answer,” it said.
“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,” it added.
More than 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, according to NOI polls, a public opinion and research organization based in Nigeria.
The platform has played an important role in public discourse in the country, with hashtags #BringBackOurGirls after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in 2014, and #EndSARS during anti-police brutality protests last year.
The government’s suspension came after Twitter on Wednesday deleted a remark on President Muhammadu Buhari’s account in which he referred to the country’s civil war four decades ago in a warning about recent unrest.
The 78-year-old president, a former general, referred to “those misbehaving” in recent violence in the southeast, where officials blame a proscribed separatist group IPOB for attacks on police and election offices.
“Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” the president had posted on Twitter.
The presidency denied late on Saturday that the Twitter suspension was a response to the removal of that 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,” a presidency spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement.
Shehu said the removal of Buhari’s tweet was “disappointing” and said “major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities.”
Twitter said it was “deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria.”
“Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society.
We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. #KeepitOn,” the company said in a statement.
“VPN app” was the second most searched trend Saturday on Google in Nigeria, as virtual private networks can enable Twitter users to bypass the ban.
Nigeria warned however that it would prosecute violators.
“Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has directed for immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria,” spokesman Umar Jibrilu Gwandu said.
Amnesty International condemned the ban, calling on Nigeria to “immediately reverse the unlawful suspension.”
“This repressive action is a clear attempt to censor dissent & stifle the civic space,” Human Rights Watch researcher Anietie Ewang said.
Breaking: FG Suspends Twitter’s Operations in Nigeria.
June 4, 2021 10:58 pm
By Olawale Ajimotokan
The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria.
The suspension was announced on Friday by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, via a statement issued in Abuja.
The minister cited the persistent use of the Twitter platform for activities that were capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Mohammed stated that 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.
Twitter had Wednesday deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet posted Tuesday where he threatened to deal with secessionists “in the language they understand”.
The social media giant had said the tweet violated the Twitter Rules.
The President had released a series of tweets after meeting with the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, at the State House in Abuja on Tuesday, wherein he warned that those promoting insurrection and those sponsoring destruction of critical national assets would soon have the shock of their lives.
He also threatened to deal with “those misbehaving today” “in the language they understand.”
Though the President tweeted five tweets on his meeting with Prof. Yakubu, it was the last tweet that Twitter said violated its rules and was deleted, while the remaining four tweets were retained.
In the controversial tweet which had been widely criticized by twitter users, President Buhari said: “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.”
The federal government had accused Twitter of taking sides and said its was suspicious of the microblogging site’s role in the IPOB agitation for Biafa.