Buhari undermines freedom of expression
OpenLife Nigeria reports that the United States of America has formally reacted to the face off between Nigeria’s government and management of Twitter, a microblogging and social networking service
Twitter had, on Tuesday, June 1, deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that was widely perceived as offensive.
In that tweet on Tuesday, the Nigerian President threatened to deal with people in the southeast, who he blames for the recurring attacks on public infrastructure in the region.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War.
“Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” Buhari wrote in the now-deleted tweet, referring to the brutal two-year Nigeria-Biafra war, which killed an estimated one to three million people, mostly from the Igbo tribe in the eastern part of Nigeria between 1967-1970.
The tweet was deleted Wednesday after many Nigerians flagged it to Twitter and the platform said it had violated its policy on abusive behavior.
On Friday, Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture announced in a statement that the Nigerian government has “indefinitely suspended” Twitter’s operations in the country.
“The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria,” the minister said.
The statement, which was posted on the ministry’s official Twitter handle on Friday evening, accused the American social media company of allowing its platform to be used “for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
The suspension came two days after the
Information Minister criticized Twitter’s action and accused the social media giant of “double standards.”
Mohammed also questioned Twitter’s motives in Nigeria, saying, “the mission of Twitter in Nigeria is very very suspect,” at a news conference on Wednesday after Buhari’s tweet was deleted.
Reacting, Twitter said in a statement that 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,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, from the early hours of Saturday, Twitter’s site was inaccessible for many Nigerians.
It was a swift implementation of the government ban which took effect just hours after the policy was announced.
Many Nigerians have condemned the ban, with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Nigeria’s main opposition party describing the move as “unwarranted” and “pushing Nigerians to the wall,” adding that more than 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account. In like manner, the Nigerian Bar Association has threatened to take legal action against the Nigerian government if the Twitter ban is not “immediately reversed.”
A Lagos-based civil society group, SERAP, has also vowed to drag the Nigerian government to court over the ban.
“We’re suing Nigerian authorities over their illegal indefinite suspension. We’ll see you in court.”
The move has also attracted international condemnation. Amnesty International, the Embassy of Sweden in Nigeria, as well as the British and Canadian missions in the country have spoken up against Twitter’s suspension by Nigerian authorities, all highlighted the importance of freedom of speech for Nigerians.
In a statement made available to OpenLife by the US embassy, the mission expressed reservation over government’s decision to ban the social media network, claiming that it negates citizen’s right to freedom of expression.
The statement reads:
“Nigeria’s constitution provides for freedom of expression.
“The Government’s recent #Twitterban undermines Nigerians’ ability to exercise this fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses.
“Banning social media and curbing every citizen’s ability to seek, receive, and impart information undermines fundamental freedoms.
“As President Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater.
“The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, alongside concerted efforts toward unity, peace, and prosperity. #KeepitOn” the Mission stated.
But by Saturday evening, the federal government through Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on media and publicity described the suspension as temporal stressing that “There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria.”
He rebuked Twitter, saying the international social network “Does not seem to appreciate the national trauma of our country’s civil war. This government shall not allow a recurrence of that tragedy,” he emphasized.