June 5, 2021
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THE Federal Government on Friday said it had indefinitely suspended Twitter’s activities in Nigeria, triggering a barrage of criticisms and outrage across the world. 

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and leading advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), in separate statements, demanded the immediate reversal of the suspension order or they would take the government to court. 

The Twitter suspension came two days after the social media giant removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists. 

The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said the government had acted because of “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” 

Mohammed did not spell out what form the suspension would take or give more details on the undermining activities. His ministry also announced Twitter’s suspension on Twitter.

When asked about the details of the suspension, a ministerial aide told Reuters: “Wait and see how things will turn out.” Twitter, however, said it is investigating its “deeply concerning” suspension of operations by the Nigerian government, and “will provide updates when we know more,” the company said in a statement quoted by Reuters. 

Twitter’s website and app continued to work across Nigeria on Friday. On Wednesday, Twitter said Buhari’s post threatening to punish groups blamed for attacks on government buildings had violated Twitter’s “abusive behaviour” policy. 

In his reaction, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, in a statement, said: “Heard the news of Buhari’s ban on Twitter an hour or so after sending off ‘To Shock and Awe’ to the print media. 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.” 

UK, Canada, Sweden warn against rights violation 

Also, Swedish authorities, in a tweet by its embassy in Nigeria, said: “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 #DriveForDemocracy #TwitterBan. 

Gill Atkinson, British Deputy High Commissioner in Nigeria, in a tweet, reacted to the Federal Government’s action. Atkinson said: “All Nigerians have the right to freedom of speech and the responsibility not to misuse that right. Any action taken by government must be measured, proportionate and not suppress basic freedoms.” 

The High Commissioner of Canada in Nigeria, Nicolas Simard, in a tweet, also reacted thus: “Freedom of expression used responsibly online and offline and access to reliable information are fundamental human rights protected by the constitution of Canada (and) Nigeria and a cornerstone of democratic life around the world. These must be fully protected while combating inflammatory and hate speech that could fuel tensions and conflicts.” 

A spokesperson for Airtel, one of Nigeria’s largest mobile carriers, on Friday, declined to tell Reuters whether the company had received any government directives about the suspension. Reuters also said MTN, the largest mobile carrier, did not respond to calls and a message seeking comment. 

NBA 

The president of the NBA, Mr Olumide Akpata, in a series of tweets on his verified handle, @OlumideAkpata, on Friday, said: “The Nigerian Bar Association has noted with great concern the extraordinary decision of the Federal Government 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 FGN 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; 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, 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 for the sake of our democracy. 

SERAP 

SERAP joined in condemning the Federal Government for banning Twitter’s operation in Nigeria, calling the move illegal and unconstitutional. In a statement, it gave the central government 48 hours to rescind the suspension or face legal action. The group, in the statement signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, 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. “Suspending Twitter in Nigeria would deny Nigerians’ access to information, and disrupt the free exchange of ideas and the ability of individuals to connect with one another and associate peacefully on matters of shared concern. It would also seriously undermine the ability of Nigerians to promote transparency and accountability in the country, and to participate in their own government. “We call on the Nigerian authorities to guarantee the constitutionally and internationally recognized human rights of Nigerians including online. 

Deletion of President Buhari’s tweets should never be used as a pretext to suppress the civic space and undermine Nigerians’ fundamental human rights.” 

Twitter suspension shows FG’s descent to fascism – PDP 

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it vehemently rejected what it called the unwarranted suspension of Twitter by the Federal Government, describing it as a draconian action and a slide towards a fascist regime in the country. 

Reacting to the measure, the main opposition party asserted that the suspension “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, patronising of terrorists and outright suppressive acts against innocent Nigerians.” 

The 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 PDP insisted that rather than being a platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence, as claimed by the minister, Nigerians, particularly the youths, have been using the social media platform, largely, for activities that promote unity, as well as social, economic and commercial interaction in our country. 

The party noted that Mohammed, in his statement, failed to cite an example of where Nigerians used Twitter as a platform to promote acts that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence as he claimed. 

It added: “Of course, the failure to give any such instance, confirms that the Federal Government is only out to victimize Nigerians. 

“The Buhari presidency and the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration are only afraid of Nigerians on Twitter because of their evil machinations for which they dread the Nigerian youths. 

“Moreover, freedom of speech is firmly guaranteed in our constitution and the Buhari administration should be ready to face Nigerians over its misrule. 

“In the case of any infringement, our nation has adequate extant laws to deal with such and not this move to gag the people.” 

The PDP, therefore, charged President Buhari to end this assault against Nigerians by immediat ely and unconditionally rescinding its decision to ban Twitter, as such amounts to pushing our citizens to the wall. 

It further said: “After all, it was the same Twitter that provided President Buhari and the APC the platform to campaign in 2015 and 2019. 

“It is also on record that President Buhari would not be the first president in the world whose tweet would be deleted. 

“When it happened to former US president, Donald Trump, he was not known to have deployed any act coercion against Twitter.” 

The PDP charged President Buhari to “halt this international shame by rescinding this ugly decision.” 

Amnesty International 

International nongovernment organization, Amnesty International, said in a tweet on Friday that it condemned “the Nigerian government’s suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, a social media widely used by Nigerians to exercise their human rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information.” 

Atiku 

Also, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, through his Twitter handle, said: “Nigerian government bans Twitter and announced 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. 

“The retirement age in Nigeria is 65. What if we decide not to vote for anyone over the age of 65, regardless of party? If you will be over 65 at the time of elections, we won’t vote for you. It will at least eliminate an entire group that has had enough opportunities to fix this mess. We did #NotTooYoungToRun. Can we consider doing #NowToOldToRule? If you are over 65, you have had your chance to help fix this mess. Isn’t it time for that entire generation to rest? The Nigerian government should not be a retirement home. It is worth a thought. It is worth a shot. 

Singer Banky W 

Popular singer, Banky W, said: “No sir! This should not be the response from the president of a nation with a vibrant youthful population for whom #Twitter is part of their daily lives and a source of their income and livelihood. This must be reviewed.” 

Saraki 

Former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said: “The suspension of the activities of Twitter in Nigeria by the Buhari 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. Retweet to petition @jack and #twitter to permanently suspend @ MBuhari’s account. 

“The suspension of the operations of @Twitter in Nigeria announced earlier today by the Buhari administration is not in keeping with democracy, the rule of law, and the independence of the media. National interest should be above the individual interest. 

“Suspending @Twitter will affect the right to free speech guaranteed all Nigerians by the Nigerian constitution. Understandably, @Buhari is upset by the disciplinary actions meted on him by @ Twitter after he violated their policy. However, Nigeria is more than the feelings of one individual. 

Reality Tv star, Tacha, said: “ This government is so insecure that they will fight everything but insecurity.” 

Also, singer Korede Bello said: “Twitter Ban: It’s unfortunate, shows FG’s desperation.” 

In April, the information minister reacted angrily when Twitter chose neighbouring Ghana for its first African office. He said the company had been influenced by media misrepresentations of Nigeria, including reports of crackdowns on protests last year.

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