ECOWAS Court Declares FG’s Twitter Ban Unlawful

The Buhari administration suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria in June 2021. The suspension was in place until January 2022.

 

 

The ECOWAS Court has declared the suspension of Twitter’s operations by the Federal Government from June last year till January this year as unlawful.

The court gave the ruling in a suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians, in reaction to the suspension, announced by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in June, 2021.

In its judgment delivered on Thursday, the ECOWAS court declared that it has the jurisdiction to hear the case, and that the case was therefore admissible.

The Court also held that the act of suspending the operation of Twitter is unlawful and inconsistent with the provisions of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both of which Nigeria is a state party.

“The Buhari administration in suspending the operations of Twitter violates the rights of SERAP and 176 concerned Nigerians to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and the media, as well as the right to fair hearing,” the court ruled.

The Court also ordered the Buhari administration to take necessary steps to align its policies and other measures to give effect to the rights and freedoms, and to guarantee a non-repetition of the unlawful ban of Twitter.

Also, the Court ordered the Buhari administration to bear the costs of the proceedings and directed the Deputy Chief Registrar to assess the costs accordingly.

The Nigerian government had announced the ban after a tweet by the President was deleted by the social media platform for violating its policies. It had also threatened to arrest and prosecute anyone using the platform with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) also asking all broadcast stations to suspend the patronage of Twitter.

This prompted SERAP and others to sue the government.

Reacting to the judgment, Femi Falana, SAN SERAP lawyer in the suit said, “We commend the ECOWAS Court for the landmark judgment in the case of SERAP v Federal Republic of Nigeria in which the Judges unanimously upheld the human rights of community citizens to freedom of expression, and access to information. Even though the Court had granted an interim order of injunction last year which restrained the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN from prosecuting Nigerians who defied the Twitter ban, SERAP deserves special commendation for pursuing the matter to a logical conclusion.”

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and the full enjoyment of this right is central to achieving individual freedom and to developing democracy. It is not only the cornerstone of democracy, but indispensable to a thriving civil society.”

“With the latest decision of the Court to declare the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria illegal it is hoped that the Heads of State and Governments of the member states of the Economic Community of West African States will henceforth respect and uphold the human right of community to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.”

SERAP 176 concerned Nigerians had in suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21 filed before the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja, sought: “An order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing its suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and subjecting anyone including media houses, broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria, to harassment, intimidation, arrest and criminal prosecution, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”

The suit, read in part: “if this application is not urgently granted, the Federal Government will continue to arbitrarily suspend Twitter and threaten to impose criminal and other sanctions on Nigerians, telecommunication companies, media houses, broadcast stations and other people using Twitter in Nigeria, the perpetual order sought in this suit might be rendered nugatory.”

“The suspension of Twitter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter and other social media platforms to assess government policies, expose corruption, and criticize acts of official impunity by the agents of the Federal Government.”

“The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censor or restraints, and to inform public opinion. The public also has a corresponding right to receive media output.”

“The arbitrary action by the Federal Government and its agents have negatively impacted millions of Nigerians who carry on their daily businesses and operational activities on Twitter. The suspension has also impeded the freedom of expression of millions of Nigerians, who criticize and influence government policies through the microblogging app.”

“The suspension of Twitter is arbitrary, and there is no law in Nigeria today permitting the prosecution of people simply for peacefully exercising their human rights through Twitter and other social media platforms.”

“The suspension and threat of prosecution by the Federal Government constitute a fundamental breach of the country’s international human rights obligations including under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.”

“The suspension 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.”

“A lot of Nigerians at home and abroad rely on Twitter coverage of topical issues of public interest to access impartial, objective and critical information about ideas and views on how the Nigerian government is performing its constitutional and international human rights obligations.”

“The implication of the decline in freedom of expression in Nigeria is that the country is today ranked alongside countries hostile to human rights and media freedom such as Afghanistan, Chad, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Colombia.”

Telecom Operators Restore Twitter Access After FG Directive

 

Many Nigerians on Thursday were able to access Twitter without using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) after the Federal Government lifted its suspension on the microblogging network.

The Federal Government had suspended Twitter in Nigeria last June after accusing the platform of enabling the spread of fake news and hate speech that undermined national security.

The Twitter hammer came into effect days after the platform deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari referencing the Nigerian civil war.

READ ALSO: Timeline Of Nigeria’s Suspension Of Twitter Operations

The suspension was criticised by many including opposition party PDP, rights activists and the international community. 

Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka described the suspension as a “petulant gesture, unbecoming of a democratically elected president.”

Lifting of the suspension comes after months of negotiations with Twitter.

In its statement announcing the lifting of the suspension on Wednesday, the Federal Government said Twitter had agreed to establish a legal presence in Nigeria while allowing the government to play a part in its curation process.

 

Timeline: Nigeria’s Suspension Of Twitter Operations

The Nigerian government argued that Twitter haboured content that undermined the country’s sovereignty.

 

On Wednesday, the Federal Government announced it was lifting its suspension on Twitter.

The microblogging site’s operations had been suspended in Nigeria since June 5, 2021, after it deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet.

In justifying its suspension, the government accused Twitter of enabling the spread of fake news and hate speech.

READ ALSO: FG Lifts Twitter Suspension After Seven Months

However, after engaging the platform for several months, the Federal Government said on Wednesday that Twitter had agreed to abide by Nigerian rules as it relates to curation of content on its platform.

Here’s a timeline of how the saga unfolded:

June 2: Twitter deletes President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet where he threatened to treat “misbehaving” Nigerians in “the language they understand”. The tweet had referenced the civil war.

June 2: The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, says Twitter’s mission in Nigeria is suspicious.

June 4: The Federal Government indefinitely suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.

June 4: Main opposition party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rejects the Twitter suspension, says President Buhari is pushing Nigerians to the wall.

June 4: Civil society group SERAP asks the Federal Government to rescind the suspension or face legal action.

June 4: Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka says Twitter suspension is a petulant gesture unbecoming of a democratically elected President.

June 4: Amnesty International asks the Federal government to reverse the suspension and suspend its plan to gag the media.

June 4: The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) says there is no constitutional or legal authority that supports the suspension.

June 5: The suspension takes effect as telecom operators block users from accessing the site.

June 5: First lady Aisha Buhari deactivates her Twitter account.

June 5: Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde urges the Federal Government to reverse the suspension, says Twitter is a source of livelihood for many Nigerian youths.

June 5: Senior Advocate of Nigeria Mike Ozekhome says the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has a thin skin for criticism and cannot take punches.

June 5: Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, directs the immediate prosecution of violators of the suspention of Twitter operations in Nigeria.

June 5: Twitter says it is working to restore access to those affected by the suspension.

June 5: The Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives say the suspension is a clear violation of freedom of speech and other democratic rights and tenets as provided by the 1999 Constitution.

June 5: Prominent diplomatic missions to Nigeria, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, say they are let down by the decision to suspend Twitter in Nigeria.

June 5: The Presidency says its decision to “temporarily” suspend Twitter wasn’t a “knee-jerk reaction” to the deletion of President Buhari’s tweets.

June 5: The US says the suspension sends a poor message to investors, businesses.

June 6: SERAP asks the Commonwealth to sanction Nigeria over the suspension.

June 6: Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom says the move is an ill-advised diversion from the core issues of insecurity and injustice plaguing the nation.

June 6: The PDP caucus in the House of Representative threatens legal action against the Federal Government over the suspension.

June 7: The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) directs all broadcasting stations to deactivate their Twitter accounts.

June 7: The Federal Government meets with some of the top envoys of various diplomatic missions in Nigeria over the suspension.

June 7: The Federal Government says it is in discussions with Twitter over the suspension and gives conditions that must be met before the suspension is lifted.

June 7: The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, defends the use of Twitter, says it is in line with Article 19 of the UN universal declaration of human rights.

June 7: Top foreign envoys insist the suspension is a violation of the fundamental human right of freedom of expression.

June 8: Members of the House of Representatives resolve to invite the Minister of Information Lai Mohammed in a bid to investigate the legality of the suspension.

June 8: SERAP drags the Federal Government to the ECOWAS court over the suspension.

June 9: The Joint Minority Caucus of the Senate and the House of Representatives says Nigerians should continue to use Twitter.

June 9: Human rights lawyer Femi Falana says the Federal Government should have sued Twitter, instead of placing a suspension.

June 9: The Federal Government says the management of Twitter has reached out for dialogue.

June 9: The PDP asks the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Saudi Arabia and other members of the international community to impose a visa suspension on President Buhari and members of his cabinet over the suspension.

June 10: US tells the Federal Government to respect the rights of Nigerians to freely express themselves by reversing the suspension.

June 11: Nigeria’s media and activists fear the country is slipping into repression over the suspension.

June 11: Senate president Ahmed Lawan says Twitter and Nigeria need each other.

June 14: About 70 civil society organisations sign a statement calling on the Federal government to reverse the suspension and withdraw the threat to persecute anyone using the Twitter app in the country.

June 14: PDP Governors say the suspension will further worsen the country’s unemployment rate. 

June 20: SERAP sues the Federal Government and Lai Mohammed over its directive asking broadcasters to stop using Twitter.

June 21: Five non-governmental organisations and four journalists file a suit against the Federal Government at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja.

June 22: President Buhari approves the composition of the Federal Government’s team to engage with Twitter. The team is led by the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed.

June 22: The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja restrains the Federal Government from imposing sanctions or harassing, intimidating, arresting, or prosecuting Twitter.

June 22: Lai Mohammed tells members of the House of Representatives that Twitter gave IPOB a platform to promote violence.

June 22: Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, says some Nigerians are taking undue advantage of the suspension to blackmail the Federal Government.

June 23: Femi Falana faults the Federal Government, says decision to meet with Twitter should have come earlier.

August 1: The Commonwealth says it is closely monitoring developments around the suspension. 

August 11: The Federal Government says it will lift the suspension Twitter in a matter of days,

August 11: Twitter confirms it is meeting with representatives of the Federal Government.

September 15: About 100 days after the suspension, the Federal Government says it is not unmindful of the anxiety over lifting the suspension, pledges to restore Twitter services.

October 1: President Buhari says he has approved for the suspension to be lifted once the conditions set by the Federal Government are met.

October 3: SERAP asks President Buhari to withdraw ‘impermissible conditions on Twitter’.

November 28: Festus Keyamo says Twitter has agreed to all the conditions laid out by the Federal Government.

January 12: The Federal Government says it has lifted the suspension, after seven months. 

Buhari: I Have Directed That The Suspension Of Twitter Be Lifted If Conditions Are Met

President Muhammadu Buhari says the Nigerian Government is committed to ensuring that digital companies use their platform to enhance the lives of citizens, respect the country’s sovereignty, cultural values and promote online safety.

 

 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday said he had given his approval for the suspension of microblogging site Twitter to be lifted once the conditions set by the Federal Government are met.

The President spoke about the suspension of Twitter during his Independence Day anniversary broadcast to the nation.

“Following the extensive engagements, the issues are being addressed and I have directed that the suspension be lifted but only if the conditions are met to allow our citizens continue the use of the platform for business and positive engagements,” he said.

Nigeria took action against Twitter in June on the grounds that it was being used for activities capable of undermining the corporate existence of Nigeria, a move that sparked outrage and controversy. Many attributed the action to the decision of Twitter to delete a tweet by the President, but the Federal Government insisted that the move had nothing to do with that and was in the interest of the nation.

In the President’s Independence anniversary speech, he explained the decision, insisting that although social media had many benefits, there were dangers that the government had to address.

“Social media is a very useful platform that has enabled millions of Nigerians to connect with loved ones, promote their businesses, socialise, and access news and other information,” he said.

“However, recent events have shown that the platform is not just an innocuous platform for information dissemination.

“Rather some users have misused the platform to organise, coordinate, and execute criminal activities, propagate fake news, and promote ethnic and religious sentiments.

“To address these negative trends, the Federal Government of Nigeria suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria on June 5, 2021, to allow the Government put measures in place to address these challenges.”

READ ALSO: President Buhari’s Full 61st Independence Anniversary Speech

After the suspension, a Technical Team set up by the Nigerian government commenced talks with Twitter and, in August, the Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said that progress had been made in the talks and the suspension will soon be lifted, but that has yet to happen.

President Buhari explained on Friday that the engagement between Nigeria and Twitter was to address “key issues” related to national security and cohesion, registration, physical presence and representation (of Twitter in the country), fair taxation, dispute resolution, and local content.

“As a country, we are committed to ensuring that digital companies use their platform to enhance the lives of our citizens, respect Nigeria’s sovereignty, cultural values and promote online safety,” he said of his directive that the suspension should be lifted but only if conditions are met.

Watch the President’s full speech below:

Twitter Blocks India’s IT Minister As Row Rages

Ravi Shankar Prasad
A file photo combination of India’s IT minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Twitter’s logo.

 

India’s IT minister on Friday accused Twitter of briefly blocking his account because of criticisms he made of the US firm in a standoff over new social media rules.

Ravi Shankar Prasad said that in a “gross violation” of Indian regulations, he was without warning informed that his account was locked because of an infringement of US copyright law.

The account remained out of action for almost an hour, he said.

“It is apparent that my statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of my interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers,” Prasad tweeted after his account was restored.

“Twitter’s actions indicate that they are not the harbinger of free speech that they claim to be but are only interested in running their own agenda, with the threat that if you do not tow the line they draw, they will arbitrarily remove you from their platform,” he added.

Twitter was not immediately available for comment.

The US firm has been locked for several months in a row with New Delhi over new rules for social media companies operating in India.

The regulations require firms to remove and identify the “first originator” of posts deemed to undermine India’s sovereignty, state security or public order.

Social media companies and privacy activists fear the vagueness of the rules means they could be forced to identify the authors of posts critical of the government.

Prasad on Friday said Twitter had not been adhering to the new rules because “it would be unable to arbitrarily deny access to an individual’s account which does not suit their agenda”.

Twitter insisted last week that it was making every effort to comply with the guidelines.

WhatsApp is challenging the rules in court, fearing that it will have to break its system of encryption that prevents anyone other than the sender and receiver from reading messages.

READ ALSO: India Accuses Twitter Of Ignoring New Rules As Row Festers

 

Twitter is also having issues with the Nigerian government.

 

Last week, Twitter’s top executive in India was summoned by police after a video of a Muslim man being assaulted went viral on the platform. Police accused Twitter of stoking sectarian tensions.

In May police visited Twitter’s offices to serve a notice to the US company over its failure to remove a “manipulated media” label that it had placed on a tweet by the ruling party’s spokesman.

Twitter responded by accusing the authorities of “intimidation tactics”.

The government says it recognises and respects the right to privacy and that the new rules are only to prevent “abuse and misuse of social media”.

AFP

Lai Mohammed, Others To Engage With Twitter Over Suspension

The Nigerian government argues that Twitter habour content that undermines the country’s sovereignty.

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the composition of the Federal Government’s team led by the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed to engage with Twitter.

This is over the recent suspension of the operations of the microblogging and social networking service in Nigeria.

It was announced in a statement from the office of the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, on Tuesday.

Mr Mohammed will also be the chairman of the team.

READ ALSO: Buhari Congratulates New Iranian President, Assures Closer Cooperation

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.

NGOs, Journalists Challenge FG’s Twitter Ban At ECOWAS Court

Twitter is also having issues with the Nigerian government.

 

Five non-governmental organisations and four journalists have filed a suit against the Federal Government at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja.

In the suit filed on Monday, they asked the court to declare the indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria a violation of their human rights under international law.

They also want the court to order the government to immediately rescind the suspension order and compensate them for the violation of their rights.

The NGO applicants are Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the International Press Centre (IPC), and Tap Initiative for Citizens Development (TICD), while the journalists are David Hundeyin, Samuel Ogundipe, Blessing Oladunjoye, and Nwakamri Apollo.

The suit, lodged with number ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21 ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21, in a 73-page documentation, was filed on their behalf by Abuja-based human rights and free expression lawyer, Mojirayo Nkanga, under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, and the Nigerian Constitution, among others.

The applicants claimed that Nigeria’s ongoing suspension of Twitter, which came into effect on or around June 4, violated their right to freedom of expression and interfered with the ability of the journalists to do their work.

Similarly, they alleged that the general situation in Nigeria with respect to human rights has created an environment where freedom of expression was stifled, stressing that it has contributed to creating a chilling effect on press and media freedom.

According to them, Nigeria has consented to be bound by the obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression under the ICCPR and the ACHPR and therefore, any limitation imposed by the government on the right to freedom of expression can only be justifiable where the restriction is provided by law, serves a legitimate aim, and is necessary and proportionate in a democratic society.

Contending that these three conditions must all be met before any restriction on the right to freedom of expression can be considered legitimate, the applicants noted that the suspension of Twitter was not provided by law, that there was no justification for it under Nigeria’s domestic laws, and that it was done by the government in an arbitrary manner in circumstances where there was no public or judicial oversight, transparency or accountability.

They, therefore, asked the court to declare the indefinite suspension of Twitter a continuous violation of their human rights under international law, particularly the right to seek and receive information, as well as the right to express and disseminate opinions under Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter; Article 19(2) of the ICCPR and the rights of journalists under Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty.

They also sought a declaration that the government’s directive, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), for the deactivation of Twitter accounts in Nigeria violated their human rights under international law and that the threat by the Attorney-General of the Federation to criminally prosecute anybody found to be using Twitter in Nigeria following the suspension of the platform also violated their human rights under international law.

They urged the court to issue orders mandating the government to immediately take all necessary measures to rescind the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria and to take all necessary measures to guarantee non-recurrence in order to prevent the same violation from occurring in the future.

They also want the court to compel the government to issue adequate reparations, including restitution, compensation, and measures of satisfaction to them to be specified and submitted to the court, as well as to issue an order of injunction restraining the government, its servants, and agents from imposing criminal sanctions on individuals, including the applicants, who use Twitter or any other social media service provider.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

Nigeria’s Twitter Ban Provokes Outcry

In this file photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

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.

READ ALSO: Twitter Deletes Buhari’s ‘In The Language They Understand’ Tweet

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.

READ ALSO: #TwitterBan: SERAP Drags FG To ECOWAS Court

 ‘#KeepitOn’

 

The Nigerian government argues that Twitter harbours content that undermines the country’s sovereignty.

 

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’?

NGO Bill: Protect Your Freedom, Amnesty International Tells Nigerians

 

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?”

All debated without VPN.

AFP

Respect Citizens’ Right And Reverse Suspension Of Twitter, US Tells FG

The Nigerian government says Twitter’s operations threaten the country’s corporate existence.

 

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.”

READ ALSO: Twitter Deletes Buhari’s ‘In The Language They Understand’ Tweet

Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, made an appearance on Channels Television on June 30, 2020.
Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami has ordered the prosecution of Twitter users in the country following the ban.

 

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.”

READ ALSO: #TwitterBan: SERAP Drags FG To ECOWAS Court

‘You Must Register In Nigeria’

 

The Nigerian government argues that Twitter harbours content that undermines the country’s sovereignty.

 

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.

READ ALSO: FG Says It Has Indefinitely Suspended Twitter Operations In Nigeria

The Federal Government accused Twitter of double standards.

 

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

 

In this file photo taken on September 5, 2018 CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Jim WATSON / AFP

 

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.

Reps To Invite Lai Mohammed, Investigate Legality Of Twitter Ban

 

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.

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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.

PDP Caucus Threatens Legal Action Against FG Over Twitter Ban

A file photo of members of the House of Representatives attending a plenary at the lower chamber of the National Assembly in Abuja on November 24, 2020.

 

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House of Representatives has threatened legal action against the Federal Government over its ban of Twitter operations in Nigeria. 

A statement by the leader of the caucus Kingsley Chinda on Sunday noted that the Nigerian government does not have the power to ban the social media platform, arguing that the action lowers the country’s image in the eyes of other democratic nations.

“We also call on the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture to immediately rescind its directive to the NBC to begin the licensing of social media operators in the country, having regard to the absence of any enabling legislative framework for such directive,” the statement read in part.

“We hereby give you notice that in the event of the failure, refusal and or neglect of the Federal Government to withdraw, reverse and/or cease the implementation of these oppressive and unconstitutional actions, we shall be constrained to institute legal proceedings at the appropriate judicial venue within the shortest possible time”.

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The Federal Government has accused Twitter of double standards.

 

The caucus faulted the directive to the National Broadcasting Commission to license social media operators in the country, describing it as an attempt to introduce the  ‘Social Media Bill’ by mere executive fiat.

According to them, the move is a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers and an erosion of the rule of law.

“Whilst, these manifestly undemocratic actions of government on its own is grave enough, we fear that it may be a precursor to more ominous actions of blotting out dissenting voices,” the lawmakers explained.

“It is a known fact that as nonperforming, fragile or failed governments face increasing criticism from its citizenry, out of desperation, they resort to more draconian and lawless actions to intimidate and cow the citizens to consolidate its hold on power by brute force.”

While calling on the Federal Government to address numerous challenges facing the country including kidnapping and banditry, the PDP caucus noted that social media is a means of escape from the daily happenings in Nigeria and a source of employment for many.

“It is worrisome that, at a time when the country faces a real existential crisis and totters on the brink of implosion from acute challenges such as widespread insecurity manifesting in banditry, kidnapping and the activities of armed non-state actors across the Federation, coupled with the parlous state of the economy resulting in ballooning inflation and massive youth unemployment, the Federal Government appears to be more preoccupied with stifling the right of Nigerian citizens to freely express themselves on social media and elsewhere,” they added.

 

Twitter Working ‘To Restore Access’ In Nigeria After FG Ban

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 26, 2020, this photograph shows the logo of US social network Twitter displayed on the screen of a smartphone and a tablet in Toulouse, southern France.  Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

 

Social media network Twitter on Saturday said it was working to restore access those affected by the Federal Government suspension of its services in Nigeria.

The Federal Government announced the suspension on Friday, after Twitter had deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari’s official account.

“We are deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria,” Twitter’s public policy team tweeted on Saturday. “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. #KeepitOn”

Meanwhile Twitter in Nigeria woke up on Saturday unable to access the microblogging websites while some navigated the hurdle using Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

The Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), an industry group, confirmed it had received directives from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the industry regulator, to suspend access to Twitter.

The President of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, made this known in a statement on Saturday.

Mr Adebayo noted that the association wished to confirm that its members had received formal instructions from NCC, the industry regulator, to suspend access to Twitter.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has also directed the immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government’s ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.