On Friday, the Nigerian government abruptly announced the indefinite suspension of all Twitter operations in the country. Thus, with mobile phone networks blocking national access, the government is threatening violators with persecution.
Ironically, the announcement took place on Twitter, with the Ministry of Information and Culture tweeting “The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria”.
Nigeria’s official reason behind this decision is that individuals are using the Twitter site to undermine “Nigeria’s corporate existence”. Moreover, the decision took place almost two days after Twitter decided to delete President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet, which stated “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand”.
The now-deleted tweet referred to the brutal war between Nigeria and Biafra that caused the death of almost 2 million people between 1967 and 1970. Not only did Twitter delete the tweet for violating twitter’s policy against abusive behavior, but it also suspended the president’s account for 12 hours.
Therefore, Information Minister Lai Mohammed accused the site of double standards while also questioning the site’s motives. He stated “the mission of Twitter in Nigeria is very very suspect,” at a news conference on Wednesday.
On the other hand, Twitter expressed its concern over the government’s decision in a statement, writing “Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society. We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world.”
Many experts even believe that the suspension was a long time coming. With the previous day’s dilemma acting as the final straw, the Nigerian government has longed to regulate the use of social media in the country.
Many even believe that twitter’s role in the #EndSars anti-police brutality protests is what lead to this current chain reaction. Last year, not only did youngsters and protestors use the platform to organize and arrange meetings, but they even created a special emoji to express themselves. Furthermore, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, aided the protestors by donating to the cause.
Twitter’s active suspension
On Saturday morning, Nigerians were surprised to discover that they can no longer access Twitter’s site. Thus, the government implemented the ban merely hours after announcing its decision. According to NOI polls, almost 39 million Nigerians have Twitter accounts. Therefore, it is only natural for many civilians to condemn the rapid suspension.
“Our party notes that Mr. Lai 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,” the opposition Peoples Democratic Party said in a statement.
A call for reversal
The decision has gained national and international opposition, with many parties calling for a reversal. Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, announced that “This action is clearly inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s international obligations. We are calling on the Nigerian authorities to immediately reverse the unlawful suspension and other plans to gag the media, repress civic space, and undermine Nigerians’ human rights.”
Furthermore, the Nigerian Bar Association is threatening to take legal action against the government, lest the decision is immediately reversed. Additionally, the association’s president Olumide Akpata, stated Twitter’s suspension hinders “the right of Nigerians to freely express their constitutionally guaranteed opinions through that medium.”
Moreover, the bar association isn’t the only party threatening legal action. A Lagos-based civil society group, SERAP, has also voiced their resolution to go to court if a reversal doest take place, stating”…We’re suing Nigerian authorities over their ILLEGAL indefinite suspension… @NigeriaGov, we’ll see you in court.”
Prosecution of violators
As a loophole, many Nigerians are using various VPNs to rejoin the site. A Virtual Private Network, also known as VPN, is a tool to masquerade an internet connection and make it appear as if the user is accessing it from another country.
However, the government is threatening civilians who are violating the suspension. Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami, also announced that he had “directed for the immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria” while ordering public prosecutors to “swing into action”.