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Clampdown on Peoples Gazette as telcos block access to news website

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Access to the website of Nigerian online newspaper Peoples Gazette has been restricted by mobile telecommunications companies including MTN, Glo, and 9mobile.

Accessing the website using Airtel data service was intermittent as at press time.

The newspaper was founded in 2020 Samuel Ogundipe, and its brand of hard-hitting headlines has pitted it against Nigerian government officials.

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Ogundipe suspected the restriction may have been caused a couple of reports the newspaper published recently.

MTN and Glo have the two biggest mobile data subscriber base, with 78,754,855 and 52,573,907 connected lines as at the end of the second quarter of 2020, figures released by the Nigerian Communication Commission showed. Airtel has 52,462,347 subscribers and 9mobile, in the fourth position, has 12,111,674 subscribers.

However, the website is accessible when browsing on the affected networks using a VPN.

“We have strong grounds to believe that it [the restriction] was deliberate based on the preliminary conclusion of webmasters,” Ogundipe said.

The clampdown on Peoples Gazette’s operations seemed to have been loaned from the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019, otherwise known as the Social Media Bill.

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The vexatious bill was submitted to the Senate by Senator Muhammad Sani Musa (APC-Niger East). It has a provision that will empower the Nigerian government to unilaterally order the shutdown of the internet if passed into law.

Part 3 (12) of the bill gives law enforcement agencies the power to shut down access to the internet and social media without recourse to the National Assembly or a court.

The section says: Law Enforcement Department may direct the NCC to order the internet access provider to take reasonable steps to disable access by end-users in Nigeria to the online location (called in this Clause an access blocking order), and NCC must give the internet access provider an access blocking order.

“Nigerian telecom firms have a history of acquiescing to repressive orders from state actors without recourse to the Nigerian Constitution, which is why we would not yield any resources to fight back against this through available civil authorities,” Ogundipe said.

Expectedly, Ogundipe said the restriction will stifle the newspaper of its readership and will “leave our newspaper hemorrhaging crucial revenues from web traffic” if it lingers.


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