The US has called on the Nigerian government to respect the rights of its citizens to freely express themselves by reversing its suspension of Twitter’s operations in the West African country.
In a statement issued on Thursday evening by the spokesperson of the Department of State Ned Price, the US explained that freedom of expression and access to information are both essential ingredients in any democratic setting.
“Unduly restricting the ability of Nigerians to report, gather, and disseminate opinions and information has no place in a democracy. Freedom of expression and access to information both online and offline are foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies,” read the statement posted on the Department of State’s website.
“We support Nigeria as it works towards unity, peace, and prosperity. As its partner, we call on the government to respect its citizens’ right to freedom of expression by reversing this suspension.”
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In a move that has caused ripples across the nation, many Nigerians in the wake of the ban devised several means to sidestep the blockade including using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami had in a swift reaction ordered the prosecution of people using the social media platform in the country.
But the US government has faulted the move as well as the National Broadcasting Commission’s order to broadcast houses in Nigeria.
“The United States condemns the ongoing suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government and subsequent threats to arrest and prosecute Nigerians who use Twitter,” the US noted.
“The United States is likewise concerned that the Nigerian National Broadcasting Commission ordered all television and radio broadcasters to cease using Twitter.”
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‘You Must Register In Nigeria’
Nigeria has one of the largest social media users in Africa. Over 120 million Nigerians can access the internet and about 40 million of them have a Twitter account — 20 percent of the population, according to Lagos-based researcher NOI Polls.
But on Friday, the government suspended Twitter days after the company deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari referencing the Nigerian Civil War and threatening to deal with those responsible for recurring attacks on public infrastructure.
The ban triggered a flurry of reactions from far and near. Top diplomatic missions and rights groups have condemned the move and critics believe it is an attempt to cage the opposition.
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While the government has met with foreign envoys following the heavy outcry that greeted the suspension, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama says the tech giant is negotiating with the Nigerian government.
“There are discussions ongoing with Twitter, we will see how that progresses, so I cannot say for now the duration of the suspension,” Onyeama said after a meeting with diplomats over the issue.
Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed who is a leading figure in Nigeria’s battle with the US-based technology firm on Wednesday defended the government’s action, dismissing concerns about freedom of expression.
He said Twitter has given a platform to activities threatening the country’s existence, insisting social media platforms must be registered in Nigeria before doing business in Africa’s most populous nation.
“What we are saying is that for all platforms, you must register in Nigeria. You must be a corporate entity before you can do business in Nigeria,” the minister said after the weekly cabinet meeting in Abuja.
“Whether it is Netflix, Iroko, or Facebook…they are all doing business in Nigeria, making money and they are not paying taxes. This is in addition to being able to regulate them. They are making billions of naira out of this country and they are not paying tax. That can’t be allowed to go on.”
A ‘Deeply Concerned’ Twitter
The minister has consistently questioned Twitter’s motive in the country, accusing it of double standards.
“We have a country to rule and we will do so to the best of our ability. Twitter’s mission in Nigeria is very suspect, they have an agenda,” he said while announcing the suspension of Twitter’s operations.
“The mission of Twitter in Nigeria is very suspicious. Has Twitter deleted the violent tweets that Nnamdi Kanu has been sending? Has it? The same Twitter during the #EndSARS protests that were funding #EndSARS protesters, it was the first to close the account of the former president of the US, Trump.
“And you see when people were burning police stations and killing policemen in Nigeria during #EndSARS, for Twitter, it was about the right to protest. But when a similar thing happened on the Capitol, it became insurrection.”
The social media platform in a statement, however, said it is “deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria.”
“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,” the microblogging site added.