The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed says the Federal Government is not aware of any $875 million ammunition deal with the US which is being purportedly obstructed by some lawmakers in the States.
Mr. Mohammed stated this while speaking with newsmen on Friday in Abuja. According to him, there is no contract of such nature and sum between Nigeria and the US.
He described as #Fakenews, the purported sale of the weapons and explained that apart from the 12 AH-I-Cobra attack helicopters of which Nigeria has taken delivery of six, the government is not aware of any contract as being speculated.
The Minister said the received AH-1- Cobra Attack helicopters would be launched sometime in August, adding that the Federal Government is“quite satisfied with the progress and cooperation that we received from the government of the US on this issue”.
Reports suggesting that influential U.S. lawmakers were obstructing a proposed sale of ammunition and attack helicopters to Nigeria over allegations of human rights abuses and anti-democratic actions of the present administration have been making the rounds.
These reports suggest that the blocked proposed sale includes 12 AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters accompanied by defence systems, 28 helicopter engines produced by GE Aviation, and 14 military-grade aircraft navigation systems made by Honeywell.
Lai Mohammed however stated that the reports are false, emphasizing that “the relationship between Nigeria and the US is smooth and waxing stronger”.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, on Saturday said the Federal Government will be responsible for taking possession of the 1,130 Benin bronzes to be returned by Germany.
“The Federal Government is aware of the widely reported controversy on who will take possession of the Benin bronzes when they are returned from Germany,” Mr Mohammed said on Saturday at a press conference in Lagos.
The return of the bronzes, looted by Britain from Benin-city in the 19th century, had recently generated some controversy in Edo State.
While the Oba of Benin wants the artefacts returned to the Benin Royal Museum, Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki has said they will be kept in “a transformational museum to be built in Benin City.”
Mr Mohammed noted that the Federal Government would take possession while respecting the culture where the art originated from.
“Let me state clearly that, in line with international best practices and the operative conventions and laws, the return of the artefacts is being negotiated bilaterally between the national governments of Nigeria and Germany,” he said.
“What we are saying in essence is that the Federal Government will take possession of these antiquities because it is its duty to do so, in line with extant laws.
“But we have always exercised this right in cognizance of that culture that produced the art works.”
Although he did not state where the artefacts will be eventually kept, he thanked Governor Obaseki and the Oba of Benin for their work in the repatriation of the bronzes.
Mr Mohammed, who recently led a delegation to Berlin to discuss the modalities for the proposed return, said the agreement will be signed by December 2021 with repatriation to be concluded by August 2022.
He added that the return of the artefacts will be unconditional.
“We agreed to have a definite timeline for the repatriation of the artefacts because Nigeria is tired of an indefinite timeline,” he said.
“Thereafter, it was resolved that the agreement on the repatriation should be signed latest by December this year and that the repatriation should be concluded by August 2022.
“We made our Germany counterparts realise that Nigeria is averse to attaching preconditions to repatriating the Benin bronzes. We made it clear that these are our properties and it is not proper to give us conditions for releasing them.
“We therefore agreed that the release will be unconditional, neither will it be staggered.
“We have decided that the repatriation of the artefacts should not be the end of an era but rather the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy, between Nigeria and Germany.”
Read his full statement on Saturday below:
TEXT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE HON. MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, ON THE EFFORTS BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO REPATRIATE LOOTED/SMUGGLED ARTEFACTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD….IN LAGOS ON SATURDAY JULY 17TH 2021
Good morning gentlemen and thank you for once again honoring our invitation. We have organized this press conference to update Nigerians on the efforts being made by the Federal Government to repatriate looted and smuggled Nigerian artefacts from around the world. We also believe that you, as critical stakeholders, must be carried along in these efforts.
2. Recall, gentlemen, that on Nov. 28th 2019, I announced, at a press conference here in Lagos, the launch of the Campaign For The Return and Restitution of Nigeria’s Looted/Smuggled Artifacts from around the world. I said that with the launch, we are putting on notice all those who are holding on to Nigeria’s cultural property anywhere in the world that we are coming for them, using all legal and diplomatic instruments available. Less than two years after that announcement, I can report back to Nigerians that our efforts at repatriating Nigeria’s looted artefacts are achieving positive results. The work ahead remains tough and daunting, but we will not relent until we have repatriated all our stolen and smuggled antiquities. These artefacts are so cherished all over the world and we realize that if they are returned to Nigeria and properly exhibited within and outside the country under our control, they stand to increase the influx of tourists to our nation and earn us good money. Of course, these timeless and priceless pieces of work are an important part of our past, our history, our heritage resource, and allowing them to sit in the museums of other nations robs us of our history.
3. Gentlemen, even though not everyone in possession of these artefacts is willing to return them, we remain undeterred as we have deployed all legal and diplomatic means and we have been recording successes in our quest for repatriation. Here are some of the successes we have recorded since that press conference in 2019:
– In October 2020, The Netherlands returned a highly-valued 600-year-old Ife Terracotta.
– In March 2021, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland agreed to return a Benin Bronze from its collections. We shall take possession of this in October this year.
– In April 2021, we received a bronze piece from Mexico.
– The University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom has also agreed to return a disputed Benin artefact. We will soon commence the procedure for the repatriation of this highly-valued piece.
– We have also secured a date in October 2021 for the repatriation of antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. These antiquities consist of two important Benin Bronzes and an exquisite Ife Bronze head. We are currently before the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to it Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) in Paris, where we have instituted a claim against a Belgian who wanted to auction an Ife Bronze head valued at $5 million, at least. This Ife Bronze antiquity has been seized by the London Metropolitan Police, pending the decision on who the true owner is. Of course, we all know that the true owner is Nigeria.
REPATRIATION OF LOOTED ARTEFACTS FROM GERMANY 4. The most remarkable progress in our quest to repatriate our looted artefacts has been recorded in Germany, which is currently working with us for the repatriation of 1,130 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. As you are aware, I recently led a high-level Nigerian delegation to Berlin, Germany, to iron out the modalities for the repatriation. During the trip, our delegation met with Prof. Monika Grutters, the German Minister of State for Culture, who has responsibility for antiquities; the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas, the Secretary of State in the German President’s office, Mr. Stephen Steinlein, and Harmann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is the centre of the German culture establishment, and his team, I also met with the Directors of at least 20 major museums. The negotiations were tough but fruitful. We have agreed that there is no going back on the issue of returning the Benin Bronzes.
5. At the meetings in Germany, I insisted, and it was resolved that provenance research on the Benin Bronzes cannot and must not delay their return, since the origin of Benin objects is not a subject of dispute as such objects are only associated with the Benin Kingdom. On the German authorities’ proposal to return a ‘substantial part’ of the Benin Bronzes. I have asserted the stand of the Nigerian government by demanding full and unconditional release of the artefacts. Concerning recording the artefacts in 3D formats for posterity and academic sake under the ‘digitalbenin’ project, of which we are a part. I have told the Germans that this work of digitalizing the Benin Bronzes must not delay the return of the artefacts and that issues related to copyrights ownership and other rights over the digitalized objects will be discussed soon.
6. We agreed to have a definitive timeline for the repatriation of the artefacts because Nigeria is tired of an indefinite timeline. Therefore, we resolved that the agreement on the repatriation should be signed in December 2021 and the repatriation should be concluded by August 2022. I told the Germans that Nigeria is averse to attaching pre-conditions to repatriating the Benin Bronzes. These are our properties, do not give us conditions for releasing them. We therefore agreed that the release will be unconditional, neither will it be staggered.
7. It must be noted, however, that the meetings in Germany were not only about repatriating these objects. We have decided that the repatriation of the artefacts should not be the end of an era but the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy, between Nigeria and Germany. In this regard, there are other benefits accruing to Nigeria from the ongoing talks. There will be archaeological training for Nigerians. The Nigerian side and the German side agreed to Nigeria’s proposal to use the repatriated artefacts and other works of art to inspire Nigeria’s Creative Industry towards realizing its high potential. For this and other purposes, it was agreed that the Germans will facilitate the establishment of an academy in Nigeria.
CONTROVERSY OVER THE POSSESSION OF THE RETURNED ARTEFACTS 8. Gentlemen, the Federal Government is aware of the widely-reported controversy on who will take possession of the Benin Bronzes when they are returned from Germany. Let me state clearly here that, in line with international best practice and the operative Conventions and laws, the return of the artefacts is being negotiated bilaterally between the national governments of Nigeria and Germany. Nigeria is the entity recognized by international law as the authority in control of antiquities originating from Nigeria. The relevant international Conventions treat heritage properties as properties belonging to the nation and not to individuals or subnational groups. For example, the 1970 UNESCO Convention, in its Article 1, defines cultural property as property specifically designated by that nation. This allows individual nations to determine what it regards as its cultural property. Nevertheless, the Nigerian state – through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments – has in working assiduously over the past years to repatriate our looted artefacts carried along our important traditional institutions and state governments
9. What I am saying in essence is that the Federal government will take possession of these antiquities, because it is its duty to do so, in line with the extant laws. But we have always exercised this right in cognizance of that culture that produced the art works. That is why the Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments have always involved both the Edo State government and the Royal Benin Palace in discussions and negotiations that have now resulted in the impending return of these antiquities. Please note that we are not just involved in the repatriation of Benin artefacts. We are also working on repatriating Ife Bronzes and Terracotta, Nok Terracotta, Owo Terracotta, the arts of the Benue River Valley, the Igbo Ukwu, the arts of Bida, the arts of Igala, Jukun etc. Recall, gentlemen, our efforts over the Igbo statues that were auctioned at Christie’s in Year 2020, and the fact that we took the British and Belgian authorities to ICPRCP in 2019 over an Ife object.
10. Finally, I want to most sincerely commend the Government of Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and indeed from the African continent. As I said during the meetings in Berlin, we see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead. I also want to thank Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, who was with us all through the tough negotiations in Berlin, and His Royal Majesty the Oba of Benin, who sent the Benin Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Ezelekhae Ewuare, to be a part of the Nigerian delegation to Berlin. We thank all Nigerians, especially the media, for their support for our efforts to repatriate all our looted artefacts.
11. Gentlemen, I thank you for listening. I will now take your questions.
The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, on Thursday accused leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu of living a life of luxury while on the run outside the country.
Mr Mohammed, speaking at a press conference in Abuja, said the IPOB leader, who was recently re-arrested and re-arraigned in Abuja, will face the full wrath for the law for challenging Nigeria’s sovereignty and unity.
“It will interest Nigerians to know that for over two years, our security and intelligence agencies were on the trail of the proscribed IPOB leader as he lived a five-star life across several countries, travelling on chartered private jets, living in luxury apartments and turning out in designing clothes and shoes,” Mr Mohammed said.
“Of course, as we all saw, he was wearing an attire made by Fendi, a luxury Italian fashion brand, when he was arrested.
“We can tell you that the forensic investigation carried out so far has revealed a treasure trove of information on the proscribed IPOB leader and his collaborators.
“While the investigation continues, we assure you that none of the collaborators, irrespective of their standing in the society, will be spared.
“They will all face the full wrath of the law for their activities that challenge our nation’s sovereignty and threaten its unity. No one, no matter how highly placed, is bigger than the country.”
Collaboration with international agencies
According to Mr, Nnamdi Kanu is facing an 11-count charge of treason, treasonable felony, terrorism and illegal possession of firearms, among others.
Kanu had earlier jumped bail in 2017 and left the country before he was re-arrested “through the collaboration of Nigerian security and intelligence agencies” and “sister international agencies.”
Mr Mohammed commended the professionalism and patriotism of the security agencies involved in the operation.
However, he declined to confirm speculations on how the re-arrest was pulled off.
“What we can tell you, once again, is that the re-arrest was made possible by the diligent efforts of our security and intelligence agencies, in collaboration with countries with which we have obligations,” he said. “We continue to respect and honour the obligations.”
Mr Mohammed said Nnamdi Kanu will be granted a fair trial.
“It is interesting that many are suddenly calling for a fair trial for Kanu as if he didn’t get one before he decided to jump bail and flee,” he said.
“However, I can assure you that the fair deal that Kanu denied many of the victims of the violence which he willfully instigated through his broadcasts and tweets will not be denied him.”
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has accused social media giant Twitter of providing a platform for secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to promote violence in the country.
He made the allegation on Tuesday in his presentation before members of the House Representatives Joint Committee on the suspension of Twitter at the National Assembly in Abuja.
“The decision of the Federal Government to ban the activities of Twitter for being a national security threat is well-founded in law in light of the fact that the platform affords IPOB, an organisation already proscribed by the Federal High Court, to champion its seditious and terrorist-based activities,” the minister said.
Twitter had deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 2, while the Nigerian government suspended the social media giant days later.
Amid the widespread criticism that trailed the action of the government, some prominent political and religious leaders insisted that they would not stop using Twitter despite the threat to sanction them.
Appearing before the lawmakers, Mohammed stated that the social media giant was suspended because it allowed activities on its platform which he claimed promoted destabilisation of Nigeria, especially by separatist groups.
He disclosed that the government has resolved that all social media platforms must register as Nigerian companies and pay taxes before they can be allowed to operate in the country.
The minister stressed that the move was not to stifle free speech or gag the media in any way, saying it was done in accordance with the law.
He also alleged that Twitter played an unsavoury role during the EndSARS protest as it used its platform to raise funds for the protesters.
According to Mohammed, Section 78 (1) of the CAMA Law 2020, states that a foreign company cannot operate in Nigeria unless it first registers and the government is empowered to defend Nigeria’s cyberspace, including social media.
Responding to questions on the impact of the suspension on businesses, he advised Nigerians to use other platforms for their online businesses.
The minister insisted that individual interest would not take precedence over national security, stressing that the ban was legal.
Other members of the team include the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; Minister of Communications and Digital Economy; Minister of Foreign Affairs; Minister of Works and Housing; Minister of State for Labour and Employment as well as other relevant government agencies.
The statement added that Twitter had earlier written to President Muhammadu Buhari seeking to engage with the Federal Government over the suspension of the microblogging site in Nigeria.
“This is with a view to charting a path forward,” the statement added.
The Federal Government earlier in June placed a ban on the usage of Twitter in Nigeria citing activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja “to stop the Federal Government and the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed from using their patently unlawful directive to all TV and radio stations not to use Twitter, and to delete their accounts as a pretext to harass, intimidate, suspend or impose criminal punishment on journalists and broadcast stations simply for using social media platforms.”
The suit followed the order by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) asking TV and radio stations to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”, and telling them to delete ‘unpatriotic’ Twitter after the social media giant was banned in the country for deleting President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/496/2021 filed last Friday, SERAP is seeking: “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr Lai Muhammed and any other persons from censoring, regulating, licensing and controlling the social media operations and contents by broadcast stations, and activities of social media service providers in Nigeria.”
In the suit, SERAP is also seeking “an order setting aside the directive by NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed asking broadcast stations to stop using Twitter, as it is unconstitutional, unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and the country’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
SERAP is arguing that “The government of President Buhari, the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed have consistently made policies and given directives to crack down on media freedom, and the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and access to information, and to impose crippling fines and other sanctions on broadcast stations without any legal basis whatsoever.”
According to SERAP: “The court has an important role to play in the protection and preservation of the rule of law to ensure that persons and institutions operate within the defined ambit of constitutional and statutory limitations.”
SERAP is also arguing that “Where agencies of government are allowed to operate at large and at their whims and caprices in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the end result will be anarchy, licentiousness, authoritarianism and brigandage leading to the loss of the much cherished and constitutionally guaranteed freedom and liberty.”
According to SERAP: “By using the National Broadcasting Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to stop broadcast stations from using Twitter without recourse to the court, the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed have contravened the right to access to justice and fair hearing guaranteed under sections 6 & [b] and 36 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, and articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi, and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “The directive by the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed to broadcasters to delete their Twitter accounts is unlawful, as it amounts to a fundamental breach of the principle of legality, the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom, and incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations.”
“SERAP and concerned Nigerians are entitled to the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom subject only to lawful restrictions. SERAP and concerned Nigerians frequently rely on the Twitter handles of many broadcast stations as sources of information for our activities in the promotion of transparency and accountability in the country.”
“Nigeria is a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which impose legal obligations on the government of President Buhari to ensure that the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom are respected, promoted, protected, fulfilled, and not unlawfully restricted.”
“The NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed have not shown any law breached by journalists, broadcast stations and media houses in Nigeria, and the government of President Buhari cannot use any disagreement with Twitter as a ploy to violate Nigerians’ rights and undermine their individual businesses and professional duties.”
“The drafters of the Nigerian Constitution well knew the danger inherent in special executive and legislative acts which take away the life, liberty, or property of particular named persons. They intended to safeguard the people of this country from punishment without trial by duly constituted courts. These principles are so fundamental and must be respected.”
“The directive to broadcast stations has seriously undermined the ability of Nigerians and other people in the country to freely express themselves in a democracy, and undermined the ability of journalists, media houses, broadcast stations, and other people to freely carry out their professional duties.”
“The Twitter accounts by broadcast stations and media houses are their own properties acquired upon privity of terms and conditions formulated by the Twitter Inc. and accepted by the stations and media houses.”
SERAP is also asking the Federal High Court for the following reliefs:
1. A DECLARATION that the directive by the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed to broadcast stations in Nigeria to deactivate their Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source of information gathering is unlawful, and amounts to a breach of the principles of legality and no punishment without law, and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom guaranteed under sections 39 and 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 [as amended], Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
2. A DECLARATION that the acts of the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed in relying on the National Broadcasting Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to unilaterally direct broadcast stations to delete their Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter without recourse to the court amount to an infringement on sections 6 & [b], 36 and 44 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], Articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
3. A DECLARATION that the provision of section 2[r] of the National Broadcasting Act and sections 5.6.3, 5.11.3 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code being inconsistent and incompatible with sections 36, 39, and 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility.
4. A DECLARATION that the NBC and Mr. Lai Muhammed lack the power and authority to unlawfully impose penalties such as fines and other sanctions on any journalists and broadcast stations for using Twitter, and refusing/failing to deactivate their Twitter handles.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
Nigeria’s media and activists fear their country is slipping into repression after the government suspended Twitter in Africa’s most populous nation, where hyper-connected youth embraced the platform as a means of protest.
The decision on Friday, days after Twitter deleted a remark from President Muhammadu Buhari, has already provoked international outcry over freedom of expression and calls for protests online and on the street.
“It is very important we push back and fast, because they could go further,” said a social media executive at a major TV station who asked to remain anonymous.
More than 120 million Nigerians have access to the internet, and nearly 40 million of them have a Twitter account — 20 percent of the population, according to Lagos-based researcher NOI Polls.
France, by comparison, has only eight million Twitter users.
Nigeria’s numbers are explained in part by its large and youthful population, but also the influence of its diaspora and the online fame of its film and Afropop stars, said Manon Fouriscot, co-founder of the Afrique Connectees consultancy.
Studies also show that more than other social media platforms, Nigerians “use Twitter to give voice to the voiceless and engage government on issues that they feel are going wrong in the country in real time”, according to NOI Polls.
Last October, the #EndSARS protest movement against brutality by the country’s SARS — or Special Anti-Robbery Squad — police unit, which expanded into a call for broader reform, first exploded on Twitter before taking to the streets.
Backed by Afropop icons with millions of subscribers, and then relayed by major international influencers, #EndSARS was the most shared hashtag in the world for two days.
The protests that followed were the largest in modern Nigerian history, raising fears of wider instability before security forces cracked down on demonstrators.
Some Nigerian broadcasters are concerned the move against Twitter is part of a more general crackdown on the media.
The industry needs to work together to “adopt a strong and common answer,” said the social media TV executive, who has several thousand followers on Twitter.
Independent broadcaster DAAR Communications announced it had filed a complaint for damage to its economic interests. Others, such as Arise TV, were still using Twitter to share news from their offices in England or the United States.
“Twitter is, in Nigeria, and more and more on the continent, a means for civil societies to express themselves, to mobilise, to alert international public opinion,” said Fouriscot, an expert in the use of social networks in Africa.
Nigeria’s government said the Twitter suspension was needed because the platform had been used for activities that could destabilise the country.
With its suspension, Nigeria joins countries like China, Turkey and Myanmar that have all moved to restrict access at some time to Twitter and other Western social media.
Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed on Wednesday defended the ban and said Twitter must register and licence locally for the suspension to end.
“Nobody in actual honesty can accuse Nigeria of stifling freedom of expression if anyone wants to be honest. But there’s one line you must not cross,” he told AFP.
Abuja’s decision got a nod of support on Tuesday from former US president Donald Trump, who himself is banned from Twitter and Facebook.
“More COUNTRIES should ban Twitter and Facebook for not allowing free and open speech,” his statement said.
The US-based social media giant last week said it was deeply concerned about Nigeria’s decision and is engaged with the government over the suspension.
Kian Vesteinsson, a research analyst on Technology and Democracy for the Freedom House think tank, said Nigeria had already been tightening online media controls in recent years.
On Monday, the national audiovisual regulatory body NBC asked all radio and television stations in the country to delete their Twitter accounts, and warned any use of the network would be considered “unpatriotic”.
The use of VPNs to sidestep government controls on Twitter will also be considered an offence, the ministry of information warned.
‘Return to dictatorship’?
But no such law has been passed by parliament and any such move would violate basic freedoms established in the 1999 constitution, the official date marking the end of Nigeria’s military dictatorships.
The UN and rights groups like Amnesty International have condemned the ban as a restriction on freedom of expression.
“Nigeria has slipped back to dictatorship,” Kola Tubosun, a Nigerian linguist and writer, said in Foreign Policy magazine.
“It appears we are back in 1984 under a military regime.”
That was a reference to the first time Buhari, a former general, ruled Nigeria after a coup before the return to democracy.
But Nigeria’s 2.0 generation has already begun reorganising itself on social networks under the hashtag #KeepItOn and trying to organise a popular protest on June 12.
On Monday evening, on ClubHouse, a social discussion platform that is becoming increasingly popular in Nigeria, all the topics up for debate were clear: “Resisting the Dictatorship?” or “23 years ago, Abacha Died Today,” referring to 1990s military ruler Sani Abacha, and “Has Nigeria learnt anything?”
The Federal Government has said all social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, and others must register in the country.
This according to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed is part of the move to regulate the social media platforms.
Mr Mohammed said this on Wednesday in Abuja while briefing journalists after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting.
“What we are saying is that all platforms, you must register in Nigeria. You must be a corporate entity before you can do business in Nigeria.
“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,” the Minister said.
He also listed the conditions for the platforms to be registered.
“Our conditions are layout – To do business in Nigeria they must register as Nigerian companies.
“They must be licensed and they will have to refrain from using the platform for activities that are inimical to the growth of Nigeria.”
– Twitter Ban And Public Outcry –
The Federal Government’s announcement banning Twitter operations in the country has been met with various reactions and fear that the country is slipping into repression.
The decision on Friday, days after Twitter deleted a remark from President Muhammadu Buhari, has already provoked an international outcry over freedom of expression and calls for protests online and on the street.
More than 120 million Nigerians have access to the internet, and nearly 40 million of them have a Twitter account — 20 percent of the population, according to Lagos-based researcher NOI Polls.
Studies also show that more than other social media platforms, Nigerians “use Twitter to give voice to the voiceless and engage government on issues that they feel are going wrong in the country in real-time”, according to NOI Polls.
Nigeria’s government said the Twitter suspension was needed because the platform had been used for activities that could destabilise the country.
With its suspension, Nigeria joins countries like China, Turkey, and Myanmar that have all moved to restrict access at some time to Twitter and other Western social media.
Nigeria’s government has said it is in talks with Twitter over the suspension.
The decision got a nod of support on Tuesday from former US President Donald Trump, who himself is banned from Twitter and Facebook.
“More COUNTRIES should ban Twitter and Facebook for not allowing free and open speech,” his statement said.
The Information Minister maintains that Twitter has been a platform of choice for separatists to thrive and would be disallowed from operating until it is duely registered, licensed, and operates within regulations.
When the Minister was asked about the law under which Nigerians who violate the Twitter ban would be prosecuted, Lai refrained from answering and asked that the Attorney General of the Federation provide answers.
Speaking concerning the discussion at the FEC meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, Mohammed insisted on the ban and asked politicians to rise beyond various divisions and queue behind the country’s decision to ban the microblogging site.
– Tax Payment and Registration –
Minister Lai Mohammed also spoke concerning the payment of tax by tech giants in the country.
He explained that most of the OTT and social media platforms operating in Nigeria do not have offices either do they pay taxes for the billions earned.
Henceforth, the Federal government has resolved to ensure other social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram be registered in the country and adverts have been published to this effect.
The information minister, despite criticism by Human Rights groups, insists that freedom of speech has not been stifled as a result of the ban.
He maintained that other social media platforms are still available for use.
Members of the House Representatives have resolved to invite the Minister of Culture and Information, Lai Mohammed in a bid to investigate the legality of the Twitter ban by the Federal Government.
The decision was reached on Tuesday during plenary.
The Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, in his speech directed the House Committees on Justice, Commerce, and Information to investigate the process that led to the suspension of the microblogging site.
The Speaker said the House recognises that Twitter is a very important means of communication.
According to him, the social networking service has been used for both good and bad and the legislature must make sure that the policies of government are in accordance with the law and do not have adverse consequences on the people.
He directed relevant committees of the House to constitute a single committee and commence investigation into the circumstances surrounding the ban, and its legality.
The committee, however, agreed to invite the Minister of Information on the matter.
While the deliberation was ongoing, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers walked out after its caucus leader, Kingsley Chinda was ruled out of order by the Speaker amid the rowdy session.
Mr. Chinda had prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to suspend the ban while the House investigation is ongoing as directed by the Speaker.
This comes after the Federal Government of Nigeria had last week announced the indefinite suspension of Twitter in the country.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed while announcing the suspension cited the persistent use of the platform for activities that are “capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
Following the announcement, telecom operators in Nigeria blocked the microblogging site Twitter, making users unable to have access to the website.
To this effect, some navigated the hurdle using Virtual Private Networks (VPN).
The decision of the Federal Government has led to various reactions from the envoys of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union in Nigeria among others insisting that the suspension of Twitter, is a violation of the fundamental human right of freedom of expression.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed on Monday said the destruction of public infrastructure and facilities is not just vandalism, it is a form of terrorism.
Lai Mohammed said this during the town hall meeting on the protection of public infrastructure organised by the Ministry of Information and Culture in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
The Minister lamented that laudable efforts of the Federal government are being thwarted “by some unpatriotic citizens through wanton destruction of critical infrastructure.”
He said further that, “On another level is the incessant attacks on critical public facilities such as police stations and INEC offices. As a matter of fact, the destruction of public infrastructure and facilities is not just vandalism, it is a form of terrorism.
“Removal of rail tracks can cause train derailment, with deadly consequences. Tampering with aviation infrastructure endangers the lives of air passengers. Attacks on police stations have left many police personnel dead. These are all acts of terror.”
Mr Mohammed explained that railway tracks are being subjected to wanton destruction, bridge railings are being removed, manhole covers are being pilfered, street lights and other power infrastructure, oil pipelines, telecoms facilities, and critical aviation infrastructure are being damaged or stolen – thereby endangering the lives of innocent citizens.
See The Full Statement Below…
SPEECH BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, LAI MOHAMMED, AT THE TOWN HALL MEETING ON PROTECTION OF PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE IN ABUJA ON MONDAY, 7 JUNE 2021
I welcome all our distinguished invitees to this town hall meeting on the protection of public infrastructure. I thank you all for accepting our invitation, and I look forward to a robust interaction on this topical issue.
Let me remind this gathering that the Ministry of Information and Culture launched the town hall meeting series in Lagos on April 25th, 2016 to provide a platform for the Federal Government to regularly give an account of its stewardship to the people and get their feedback, thus enhancing citizens’ participation in governance. This is the 19th edition.
Today’s town hall meeting is both urgent and important because it touches on an issue that is at the very core of economic growth and national development, which is public infrastructure. When public infrastructure is being targeted for destruction by some unpatriotic Nigerians, it calls for great concern and immediate action, hence our decision to organize this town hall meeting.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Nigeria has long suffered a massive infrastructure deficit due to decades of neglect, population explosion, and the absence of maintenance culture. But since coming into office in 2015, the Muhammadu Buhari Administration has embarked on rapid economic growth with equity, i.e. people-centered economic management as well as prioritizing human capital development through enhanced social services and infrastructure development.
This explains why the Federal Government deliberately adopted an inclusive development framework that spreads infrastructure to all sections of the country. Despite a drastic drop in revenues and competing priorities, especially that of tackling insecurity, the Administration has invested heavily in providing new infrastructure, in addition to reconstructing and rehabilitating existing ones.
However, in recent times, such laudable efforts of the government are being thwarted by some unpatriotic citizens through wanton destruction of critical infrastructure, thereby depriving the greater citizenry – for whose benefits these projects and services are provided – from enjoying them.
Railway tracks are being subjected to wanton destruction, bridge railings are being removed, manhole covers are being pilfered, street lights and other power infrastructure, oil pipelines, telecoms facilities, and critical aviation infrastructure are being damaged or stolen. Apart from endangering the lives of fellow innocent citizens, such unpatriotic acts take a toll on the government’s limited revenue, as it seeks to replace, rehabilitate or totally reconstruct such destroyed infrastructure.
On another level is the incessant attacks on critical public facilities such as police stations and INEC offices. As a matter of fact, the destruction of public infrastructure and facilities is not just vandalism, it is a form of terrorism. Removal of rail tracks can cause train derailment, with deadly consequences. Tampering with aviation infrastructure endangers the lives of air passengers. Attacks on police stations have left many police personnel dead. These are all acts of terror.
And this is why we have decided to organize a series of town hall meetings to address this incessant and worsening destruction of public infrastructure and facilities. In organizing these town hall meetings, our main objectives are to:
* Create in the public mind that government property are indeed citizens’ property and so must be protected for the benefit of all.
* Sensitize communities, especially those where infrastructure are located, to be conscious of the import of such and protect them
* Expose, arrest and prosecute all those who engage in buying pilfered infrastructure items along with those who bring such to them to sell.
* And sensitize the larger citizenry to support the widespread campaign on the protection and ownership of public infrastructure/assets, especially in the Railways, Roads, and Aviation sectors.
Today’s town hall meeting will be the first of a 3-part series that will address the vandalism of public infrastructure across the country. A similar town hall meeting will hold in Calabar, Cross River State, to address pipeline vandalism while another one will be held in Maiduguri, Borno State, to address vandalism of power and telecommunication infrastructure.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me end by saying we should never forget this Administration’s massive investment in infrastructure since coming into office, despite the paucity of funds. It’s easy to forget now, but when this Administration came into office in 2015, the price of crude oil, which provides 80 per cent of Nigeria’s budgetary revenues and 95 percent of foreign exchange earnings, had dropped drastically and, along with it, the fund available to the government.
It is therefore a monumental achievement that this Administration has, to a large extent, managed to bridge the deficit in infrastructure. As I always say, no government in the history of this country has done so much with so little! It is incumbent on us, therefore, to do everything within our power to stop the wanton destruction of public infrastructure and facilities.
On this note, I want to once again thank all our invitees. This is wishing all of us a successful town hall meeting.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has taken a swipe at the US media giant, Twitter, saying its mission in Nigeria is suspicious.
Mohammed’s comments came after Twitter deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet where he issued a threat to trouble makers in the country while making reference to Nigeria’s civil war.
While defending its action, the tech company said the President’s tweet violated its rules.
But briefing State House reporters at the Presidential Villa on Wednesday in Abuja, the Minister accused Twitter of ignoring inciting tweets by the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, and others, adding that Nigeria would not be fooled.
“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.
“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.”
He recalled the #EndSARS protest during which government and private property were either looted or destroyed in October last year, noting that the company also displayed the same bias during the period.
The minister also asked what rule of Twitter President Buhari violated to warrant his tweet to be deleted, wondering why previous tweets on #EndSARS protests were taken out.
Mohammed added, “Twitter may have its own rules, it’s not the universal rule. If Mr. President, anywhere in the world feels very bad and concern about a situation, he is free to express such views. Now, we should stop comparing apples with oranges.
“If an organisation is proscribed, it is different from any other which is not proscribed. Two, any organisation that gives directives to its members, to attack police stations, to kill policemen, to attack correctional centers, to kill warders, and you are now saying that Mr. President does not have the right to express his dismay and anger about that?
“We are the ones guilty of double standards. I don’t see anywhere in the world where an organisation, a person will stay somewhere outside Nigeria and will direct his members to attack the symbols of authority, the police, the military, especially when that organisation has been proscribed. By whatever name, you can’t justify giving orders to kill policemen or to kill anybody you do not agree with.”
President Buhari had during a meeting with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, issued a stern warning to those plotting to destroy Nigeria, saying they will soon receive the shock of their lives.
He also condemned the series of attacks on INEC facilities, stressing that the Federal Government has given the perpetrators enough time.
“I receive daily security reports on the attacks, and it is very clear that those behind them want this administration to fail,” President Buhari said.