By Vincent Ikuomola, Gbade Ogunwale, Abuja, Alao Abiodun, Lucas Ajanaku, Adebisi Onanuga and Oyebola Owolabi
U.S., UK, EU, others insist on free access
Fed Govt, social media giant in talks
The Federal Government on Monday justified its ban on Twitter, saying the social media giant constituted a threat to peace and the security of the nation.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffery Onyeama explained that the action was in the interest of national security and peace.
The outrage against the suspension heightened as the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada called for a retracing of step.
On Monday, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) ordered broadcat stations to suspend Twitter patronage.
It was also learnt that the government and the social media giant are already talking.
Besides the Western countries, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Redeemed Church Christian Church of God (RCCG) General Overseer pastor Enoch Adeboye and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) reacted to the government action.
Expressing concern over the ban, the ambassadors of U.S., UK, Canada, European Union and Ireland said the government action violated the freedom of information and communication.
Onyeama, who spoke at the end of a meeting with the ambassadors and representatives in Abuja, solicitated their understanding for the decision.
He told reporters that President Muhammadu Buhari was keen on ensuring the peace and security of Nigerians and Nigeria.
The minister stressed that government’s major objective was to advocate a responsible use of social media platforms that would not destabilise the peace and unity of the country.
Onyeama said: “We had very useful discussions and we just restated the security concerns of Mr President and of all Nigerians and the very strong steps that needed to be taken to address security challenges in the country.
“They (the envoys) are all living here with us in Nigeria and have a fair view and experience of the security challenges we are facing.
“We discussed the role of social media as platforms which could be used to do good or bad.
“Unfortunately, the bad that social media is often used to commit have very dire consequences on human lives and in our case also, threatening the unity of the country.
“As the responsibility of the government is to maintain law and order, security, and to preserve human lives, we have to take every measure to ensure that all those are preserved.”
He added: “We believe as a democracy, that there must be the right to life, the right to property ownership and we believe in human rights and freedom of speech, but the social media has to be used responsibly.
“We had detailed discussions and our partnership and solidarity with those countries were reaffirmed.”
S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth-Leonard, who led the envoys to the meeting, said her country and other partners would continue to engage with Nigeria to uphold human rights and the rule of law.
“I thank the minister for inviting us here today because that is what partners do. Talk about shared goals. We did speak about the issues of social media and our concerns.
“We have to be very clear that we are Nigeria’s strong partners on issues of security and we recognise the daunting task on the issues of security that confronts Nigeria.
“While they are daunting, they are not insurmountable, and part of the way you surmount them is with the partnership of the people you see represented here.
“We recognise that there are issues of irresponsible use of social media, but we remain firm in our position that free access to the ability to express self is very important and perhaps more important in troubled times.”
Beth-Leonard expressed satisfaction that the Federal Government and Twitter were in talks.
She said many of the things Onyeama referred to, including incitements and violence, were crimes the Nigerian government has legitimate right to prosecute.
Beth-Leonard added: “We encourage them to use judicial processes within the scope of respect for human rights and the rule of law and restrain such behaviours,” Leonard said.
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who spoke on a television programme in Lagos, urged Twitter and the Federal Government to resolve the issues at hand.
He said: “On both sides, there are issues that can be resolved between Twitter and the government and I think what they’ve done is not a ban but a suspension like they said. So in the period of suspension let us sit down…we need to have that conversation with them.”
The NBC has ordered broadcast stations to suspend the patronage of Twitter with immediate effect.
The commission said the decision followed the suspension of Twitter operations by the Federal Government over the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining the corporate existence of Nigeria.
The NBC Acting Director-General, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, issued the directive in a statement titled: “Suspend Twitter handles.”
The Commission directed the broadcast stations to “de- install Twitter handles and desist from using it as a source (UGC) of information gathering for News and programmes presentation especially phone-in.”
He said: “Consequent on the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria by the Federal Government over the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining the corporate existence of Nigeria, the National Broadcasting Commission directs all Broadcasting Stations in Nigeria to suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately.
“In compliance to the above directive, Broadcasting Stations are hereby advised to de- install twitter handles and desist from using twitter as a source (UGC) of information gathering for News and programmes Presentation especially phone-in.
“Section 2(1) r of the NBC Act entrusts the commission with responsibility to ensure strict adherence to the national laws, rules and regulations. Also, Section 3.11.2 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code provides that “the broadcaster shall ensure that law enforcement is upheld at all times in a matter depicting that law and order are socially superior to or more desirable than crime and anarchy.
“Attention is also drawn to section 5.6.3 of The Code which requires Broadcasters to be mindful of materials that may cause disaffection, incite to panic or rift in the society in the use of a user generated content (UGC).
“Note that it will be unpatriotic for any broadcaster in Nigeria to continue to patronise the suspended Twitter as a source of its information therefore strict compliance is enjoined.”
RCCG General Overseer Adeboye said tweets by his church were in accordance with the United Nations declaration on human rights, irrespective of the suspension of Twitter operations by the Federal Government.
Adeboye, while reacting to allegations of flouting government’s order in a statement, said: “The Redeemed Christian Church of God is domiciled in more than 170 Nations & Territories. The tweets here are in accordance to Article 19 of the UN universal declaration of Human Rights”
Also, SERAP condemned the directive by the NBC, describing it as “patently illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.”
SERAP, in a statement by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “This directive by the NBC is itself unlawful because it is based on another unlawful decision by the Federal Government to suspend Twitter in Nigeria.
“The NBC’s directive has political interference written all over it.”
The PDP cautioned the Federal Government against harassing foreign envoys and other members of the international community for speaking out against the ban.
In a statement by the PDP spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said it was alarmed by the development, which it said, smacked of intolerance towards the international community.
The party said its leadership was already perfecting the processes for a legal action against the Federal Government’s suspension of Twitter and the directive to broadcasting stations to pull out of Twitter.
It added that the PDP was also considering a directive to all its wards, local governments and state structures to commence peaceful civil protests against the suspension of Twitter, the spate of insecurity and the failures of the administration.”
DAAR Communications for court
The management of DAAR Communications Plc said it will challenge the NBC directive on Twitter patronage when the courts reopen.
It, however, announced compliance with the directive, adding that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice ought to have counselled the Federal Government appropriately.
The company said: “We therefore regret to tell our teeming viewers and admirers that in compliance with the directive by the NBC, following the federal government’s suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria, that we are henceforth and with immediate effect, suspending the use of Twitter to disseminate information and to gather newsworthy information and opinions from the platform.”
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