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Anger as Buhari suspends Twitter operations in Nigeria

By Vincent Ikuomola, Abuja, Alao Abiodun and Robert Egbe

  • We’re investigating action against us, says company

  • FG orders NBC to license all social media companies

  • Just like Twitter, Facebook pulls down President’s post

All the social media platforms operating in Nigeria are now to be licensed by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) following an indefinite suspension slammed on Twitter by the Federal Government on Friday.

Twitter said in its initial reaction to the clampdown that it was investigating the action against it.

Nigerians in their thousands condemned the ban.

Government cited “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence” for its action.

On Wednesday, Information and Tourism Minister Lai Mohammed accused Twitter of playing double standards in matters concerning domestic issues, and described the company’s role in Nigeria as suspect.

Twitter had pulled down a comment by President Muhammadu Buhari in which he said the federal government would  treat “those misbehaving today” in “the language they understand” in reference  to the civil war.

Almost simultaneously with the suspension of Twitter yesterday, Facebook pulled down Buhari’s threat against “those misbehaving.”

In a similar move, Facebook extended the ban it placed on the account of the immediate past US president Donald Trump to two years.

Incidentally, the federal government’s ban on Twitter was broken on the same social medium by the Federal Ministry of Information. But it did not say how the ban would be enforced.

Twitter was still available to Nigerian users as at 8.30pm yesterday.

By that time, the ban had attracted over 265,000 comments, many of which derided government and its officials.

Mohammed in a statement through his Special Assistant Segun Adeyemi said the federal government has “suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria”.

He said the action stemmed from “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”

He also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to “immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.”

Other social media platforms used by Nigerians include Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Youtube.

Twitter: ‘We’re investigating action against us’

Twitter in its first reaction to the ban yesterday said it was “deeply concerning”.

It said it was “investigating and will provide updates when we know more.”

A Twitter spokesperson had said it pulled down Buhari’s post because it “was in violation of the Twitter Rules. The account owner will be required to delete the violative Tweet and spend 12 hours with their account in read-only mode”.

The statement gave no further details.

Ban incompatible with Nigeria’s international obligations, says Amnesty

Amnesty International (AI) described the ban on Twitter as incompatible with Nigeria’s international obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It asked government to lift the ban immediately.

“Amnesty International condemns the Nigerian government’s suspension of Twitter in Nigeria — a social medium widely used by Nigerians to exercise their human rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information,” AI said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“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. #TwitterBan.

“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.”

Sweden says no to Twitter suspension 

The Swedish Embassy in Abuja yesterday opposed the federal government’s indefinite suspension of Twitter.

In a post via its official Twitter handle ‘Sweden in Nigeria,’ it advised the government to respect Nigerian’s right to freedom of expression.

“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”, it tweeted ending its tweet with the hashtags #DriveForDemocracy and #TwitterBan.

Soyinka: It’s a petulant gesture unbecoming of a democratically elected president

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka branded the Twitter ban a “petulant gesture” that is “unbecoming of a democratically elected president.”

He said: “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!”

PDP: It’s draconian, slide towards fascism

Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said President Buhari, by the ban, was “pushing Nigerians to the wall”.

It described the Twitter suspension as unwarranted, draconian and a slide towards a fascist regime in our country.

It also said the suspension was “a vexatious, condemnable and barbaric move to muzzle Nigerians, particularly the youths,” ostensibly to prevent them from holding the administration “accountable for its atrocities, including human right violations, patronizing of terrorists and outright suppressive acts against innocent Nigerians.”

The party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, tweeted: “Hopefully, this isn’t my last tweet. #smile,”

While former Senate President Bukola Saraki 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.”

Some other tweets: Dino Melaye “Naija Govt sha. Using Twitter platform to announce Twitter suspension. Na im Baba Fela dey call babanla nonsense. SDM”

Dr. Dípò Awójídé, FHEA @OgbeniDipo 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?

Dalla Bona Fan @jaja_sowari Replying to @OgbeniDipo “So many inconsistencies from Jack and his twitter team. For the first time, I am with FG on this.”

‘Fisayo Soyombo “The most shameful thing about the ban of Twitter in Nigeria is not even that it was announced. It’s the realisation that this government can’t see the divisiveness and irresponsibility of that Buhari tweet, and the barefacedness with which it is going about it.”

Roviel @ObongRoviel “FG has suspended Twitter in Nigeria, if you can still tweet, that means you’re in UAR. Ko po ke”

YourFavLawyer @jagganiyu “If Twitter is such an issue for them, why don’t they deactivate their accounts? Why are they still on Twitter? They know Crowwe is a useless app. Me I’m in UAR sha, so Twitter in Nigeria suspension no concern me.”

SERAP “BREAKING: 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.”

@Biraphil: This is the same twitter y’all cried when they set up their headquarters in Ghana instead of Nigeria. Government would’ve locked their headquarters up for hate speech by now.

NBA, Ozekhome slam FG

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Mike Ozekhome yesterday opposed the federal government’s indefinite suspension of the operations of micro blogging and social networking service Twitter.

They advised the government to immediately reverse itself on the ground that the suspension contravened Nigerians’ constitutional right to freely express their views via Twitter.

In the alternative, NBA President Olumide Akpata threatened legal action against the government on behalf of Nigerians.

Akpata said: “The Nigerian Bar Association has noted with great concern the extraordinary decision of the Federal Govt 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 NBA 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 NBA will have no choice but to challenge same in the interest of the public and for the sake of our democracy.”

Dr Ozekhome slammed the government in a statement ‘When a toterring government twiddles Twitter’

He said:”What does Nigerian government think Twitter loses by being suspended? It is just the Nigerian people that will suffer, in the same way the government has been punishing Nigerians in the last six years.

“Twitter will not even bother whether Nigerians use Twitter or not. We are 210 million people in Nigeria. Of this number, only about 33 million Nigerians are active on social media. Less than 15 million of these are on Twitter.

“On the other hand, there are well over 300 million people across the world that use twitter. So Twitter will not feel it. It is just like a drop of water in an ocean. Twitter will not even know that a country has suspended it.

“So, it is the same beleaguered Nigerian people that will suffer, not the Federal Government or Twitter, because the Federal Government is a minute minuscule aspect of the Nigerian society, made up of only a few selected elite that do not care about the common man.

“This is the same government that undeservedly rode to power using the same twitter and other social media platforms it now detests….I am very ashamed.”

Like Twitter, Facebook removes Buhari’s ‘Genocidal’ threat post

Another social media platform, Facebook, yesterday pulled down Buhari’s controversial threat against “those misbehaving today.”

Facebook’s action was in reaction to complaints from some Nigerian users.

It said: “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.”

Facebook suspends Trump for two years

Facebook has also suspended former U.S. President Donald Trump for two years effective Jan. 7.

Facebook, in a statement by Nick Clegg, Vice-President of Global Affairs, cited “severe violation” after Capitol Hill riots of January 6 and that Trump’s accounts would only be reinstated if conditions permitted.

“Last month, the Oversight Board upheld Facebook’s suspension of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts following his praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6.

“But in doing so, the board criticised the open-ended nature of the suspension, stating that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension”.”

“The board instructed us to review the decision and respond in a way that is clear and proportionate, and made a number of recommendations on how to improve our policies and processes,” it said.

“We are today announcing new enforcement protocols to be applied in exceptional cases such as this, and we are confirming the time-bound penalty consistent with those protocols which we are applying to Mr. Trump’s accounts.”

“Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols Facebook stated.

“We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year.

“At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded.

“We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest.”

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