Wednesday, 27th September 2023

Outrage as Buhari bans Twitter in Nigeria

By Adeyemi Adepetun, Tobi Awodipe and Maria Diamond (Lagos) Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja)
05 June 2021   |   4:32 am
Nigerians have continued to express shock and disbelief over Federal Government’s indefinite suspension of the operations of microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria.

President Muhammadu Buhari

• We’re Investigating And Will Provide Update, Says Twitter • Soyinka: Finally, The Chickens Have Come Home To Roost• ‘It Will Backfire On Businesses’ • Amnesty International Condemns Action, Seeks Reversal
• Experts Say Process Can Be Circumvented Via VPN • PDP Rejects Suspension • We’ll See You In Court,
SERAP Fumes. • Their Activities Capable Of Undermining Nigeria’s Corporate Existence—Lai Mohammed
• NBC To Discuss Strategies For Implementation On Monday

Nigerians have continued to express shock and disbelief over Federal Government’s indefinite suspension of the operations of microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension in a statement yesterday in Abuja, citing the persistent use of the platform for activities capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.

Mohammed said the Federal Government has also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.

Titter had on Wednesday, June 2, deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet, in which he threatened to treat Nigerians “misbehaving” in “the language they understand.”

The President had in a tweet shared on Tuesday, cited Nigeria’s civil war experience between 1967 and 1970 and noted that most of those “misbehaving” by burning electoral offices were maybe too young to understand the gravity of war.

In the tweet, he also threatened to deal with the arsonists, saying: “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”

The tweet, however, attracted millions of comments and widespread condemnation, with many Nigerians criticising the President, especially for making reference to the civil war in which millions of Nigerians, mostly of Igbo extraction, were killed.

Some Nigerians had called on Twitter to suspend his account, claiming the President’s tweet “expresses intentions of self-harm or suicide,” as stated on Twitter’s usage policy.

But Twitter, on Wednesday, deleted the message, stressing that the post violated its rules. The social networking service, on Thursday, also deleted the video of the tweet.

Like Twitter, Facebook has also deleted Buhari ‘s alleged offensive post.
“In line with our global policies, we’ve removed a post from President Buhari’s Facebook page for violating our Community Standards against inciting violence.

“We remove any content, from individuals or organisations that violates our policies on Facebook,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Twitter has expressed “deep concern” over government’s decision to suspend its operations in Nigeria. Its Senior Policy Communications Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Sarah Hart, who made this known in a statement, said the company was investigating the development.
“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,” the statement said. Based of the development, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is to meet on Monday, June 7, to discuss strategies for the implementation of the government’s directive. 

Its Director General, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, told The Guardian that being a new directive, he needs to meet with his team to discuss the issue. 

The Guardian had sought to know how the Commission intends to implement the directive and whether there are existing laws the NBC could rely on in carrying out the order, especially the licensing of Over-The-Top (OTT), a media service offered directly to viewers via the Internet, which bypasses cable, broadcast and satellite television platforms, the types of companies that traditionally act as controllers or distributors of such content. 

In his reaction to government’s clamp down on Twitter, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said, “The evocation of the civil war, where millions of civilians perished, is an unworthy emotive ploy that has run its course, adding, “Finally, the chickens have come home to roost.

“It does not take the formal declaration of hostilities, with or without lethal bombardments, for a nation to find itself shell-shocked. The populace of this nation is already in that shell-shocked condition. So, what is there left to shock?”

While rejecting the ban, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the move as a draconian action and a slide towards a fascist regime.

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP said it was appalled that the Federal Government could exhibit such “primitive intolerance and power intoxication because the social media giant demonstrated international best practices in not allowing the Buhari presidency to use Twitter as a platform to propagate and spread the Buhari administration’s hatred towards Nigerians.”

The party asserted that the suspension of twitter, is “a vexatious, condemnable and barbaric move to muzzle Nigerians, particularly the youths, ostensibly to prevent them from holding the overtly corrupt, vindictive and divisive Buhari administration accountable for its atrocities, including human right violations, patronizing of terrorists and outright suppressive acts against innocent Nigerians.”

Stakeholders, especially in Nigeria’s Information Technology (IT) space, described the suspension as worrisome and needless, saying it means Nigeria and Nigerians would be partly disconnected from the rest of the world, with Statista adding that there are about 61.4 per cent Twitter users in the country.
Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said: “This means that we will be partly disconnected from the rest of world, which has become a global village,” while the Nigeria Coordinator of Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, said the suspension would backfire badly. “Just watch what will happen in the coming days. Moreover, it can be circumvented. That is where the people can use VPN to connect to it.”

A telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, asked: “Who is advising the Federal Government? I don’t see how this will work. Twitter has no office in Nigeria, yet you are banning. Is it that they don’t know that it is a global village, and with VPN, people can remain connected?”

While describing the action as a disincentive to investments, Aluko said the Federal Government would be hurting, especially small businesses that have one or two things they do via Twitter for their trades, adding: “I hope this government is thinking.”

A user, Kelechi Okorie, who expressed his frustration over the suspension, said: “They have just justified Twitter’s decision to set up its Africa office in Ghana ahead of Nigeria. This same minister blamed the media for making Twitter choose Ghana.”
Another Twitter user, Tunde Omotoye, with the handle@TundeTASH, wrote: “The banning of Twitter in Nigeria will send a message to the tech ecosystem in Silicon Valley. This might also affect the “friendly place to do business’ indices.”
Twitter user with the handle, @just_silva, wrote: “Insecurities, electricity, health, education problems are there but the only thing federal government can ever think of doing is suspending Twitter in Nigeria? lmaooo.”
Also reacting, Amnesty International, Nigeria, with the Twitter handle @AmnestyNigeria, wrote: “Amnesty International condemns the Nigerian government’s suspension of Twitter @Twitter in #NigeriaFlag of Nigeria, a social media widely used by Nigerians to exercise their human rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
“We call on the #Nigerian authorities to immediately reverse the unlawful suspension and other plans to gag the media, repress the civic space and undermine Nigerians’ human rights.

“This action is clearly inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s international obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Musician and producer, @BankyW, said: “Nigerian Government bans Twitter and announce the ban ON Twitter. You can’t make this up. Clueless. They can’t stop kidnapping, armed robbery and terrorism… the country is as unsafe as ever… yet they can seize passports and block bank accounts of peaceful protesters. They ban cryptocurrency. They ban Twitter. Completely out of touch with the plight of young people.”

Popular user, @Segalink, wrote: “It is only in Nigeria that Govt will suspend Twitter operations using their handle on Twitter to communicate same. Only God will save us in this country.”

Former senator and rights activist, Shehu Sani wrote @Shehu Sani: “Twitter suspension; a bad legacy,” while @Omojuwa said: “I can understand Lai Mohammed being such a relic, he doesn’t understand this decision. Does he not have sensible people in his team who understand how the new world works? Do they think Twitter is like a television station? Who advises these guys? This is a laughable tragedy.”

Wrote the Socio-Economics Rights and Accountability Project @SERAPNigeria: “We’re suing Nigerian authorities over their ILLEGAL indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. Nigerians have a right to freedom of expression and access to information, including online, and we plan to fight to keep it that way. @NigeriaGov, we’ll see you in court.”

User @Dipo Awojide said: “Does President Buhari and the federal government know how much young Nigerians make on social media platforms, like Twitter, daily? Does Lai Mohammed know the number of jobs being sustained by Twitter in Nigeria?

“What is wrong with these people? Everything is a nail for a man with a hammer. What’s the purpose of this ban on Twitter in Nigeria? Doesn’t make any sense.”

Social media influencer and reality star @Symply_tacha, wrote: “Parents were live on Arise TV today crying and the problem is Twitter in Nigeria??? Jesus, take the wheel. Confuse bunch!! Imagine banning Twitter in Nigeria and still using the same App to let us know! What are the measures to effect this suspension, abeg? Must we kikiki about everything?? This Twitter in Nigeria ban is not funny! Federal Government does not rate us! Because what is THIS!!!”

Government critic, @Renoomokri, wrote: “The suspension of the activities of @Twitter in Nigeria by the @MBuhari administration should be ignored by @Jack. The Buhari government has no means to effect the suspension, and even members of the administration are still on Twitter.”

Hear Dino Melaye @dino_melaye: “Naija Govt sha. Using Twitter platform to announce Twitter suspension. Na im Baba Fela dey call babanla nonsense.”

For Farooq Kperogi @farooqkperogi: “Does Lai Mohammed know that there’s a little something called VPN that Nigerians can use to circumvent the Federal Government’s so-called ban on Twitter in Nigeria? These ignorant, prehistoric creatures in gov’t never cease to amaze with their insufferable boneheadedness.”

Former vice president, Atiku Abubakar @atiku, wrote: “Hopefully, this isn’t my last tweet. Smile.” It would be recalled that Twitter, last year, banned then United States (US) President Donald Trump from use of the platform over tweets it considered violation of its rules.

Though twitter is officially blocked in China, many Chinese circumvent the block to use the platform. Even major Chinese companies and national medias, such as Huawei and CCTV, use Twitter through a government approved VPN.

The official account of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs started tweeting in English in December 2019, meanwhile dozens of Chinese diplomats, embassies and consulates run their accounts on Twitter.

However, in 2010, Cheng Jianping was sentenced to one year in a labour camp for re-tweeting a comment that suggested boycotters of Japanese products should instead attack the Japanese pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo. Her fiancé, who posted the initial comment, claimed it was actually a satire of anti-Japanese sentiment in China.

Also, in 2019, a Chinese student at the University of Minnesota was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison when he returned to China for posting tweets mocking Chinese paramount leader, Xi Jinping, while in the US.

On July 3, 2020, Twitter announced that all data and information requests for Hong Kong authorities were immediately paused after Hong Kong national security law, which was imposed by the Chinese government, went into effect.

According to the official verdicts as of last year, hundreds of Chinese were sentenced to prison due to their tweeting, re-tweeting and liking on Twitter.

In April 2016, North Korea blocked Twitter in a move underscoring its concern with the spread of online information. Anyone who tries to access the platform without special permission from the North Korean Government, including foreign visitors and residents, is subject to punishment.