The Nigerian federal government’s suspension of the operation of American micro-blogging company, Twitter, in Nigeria, might have left both in a catch-22 situation as the duo have lost millions of followers that they had built for more than half a decade.
For Twitter the saga has cost it billions of cash, while Nigerians, in both private and public sectors have lost their means of instant communication.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had last week announced the suspension of Twitter after the firm deleted some aspects of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet, which the company found to be in breach of its rules.
Following searing attacks of the suspension by social activists, who said it was an abuse of Nigerians’ freedom of expression as guaranteed by Section 39 (1) of the Constitution as altered, Muhammed added an extra reason for the act, saying the temporary prohibition of the internet platform was a response to the firm’s persistent violation of the nation’s national security interest.
The suspension order had attracted a directive from the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), asking all Telcos and broadcasting media to deactivate their Twitter handles and block access to the internet facility.
Many Nigerians, have, however, circumvented the federal government’s blockage of the micro-blogging facility, resorting to the virtual private network (VPN) to connect Twitter.
Although THISDAY’s checks showed that Buhari, his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), and many government agencies, including the armed forces, ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), have suspended tweeting, some governors including Malam Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo) and Mr. Seyi Makinde (Oyo) have continued to tweet in defiance of the federal government’s directive.
Analysts said on Monday that both the federal government and Twitter must be feeling the rough edges of the suspension as they suffer its adverse effect.
For the Nigerian government, its agencies and millions of private sector users of the micro-blogging facility, it amounts to a loss of an instant communication tool, which had helped to facilitate the dissemination and receipt of information necessary for the conduct of their businesses.
Agencies like Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that had used its Twitter handle to instantly communicate with the public information on the COVID-19 pandemic, would now have to revert to other pre-Twitter messaging platforms, including e-mail, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram that are not as fast, .
A day after Mohammed announced the suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had warned that violators of the ban would be prosecuted.
But senior lawyers have questioned the legality of Malami’s order, saying that it is not grounded in law, adding that Nigerians could not be prosecuted for offences not specified by law.
To calm the global outrage that the suspension of Twitter has generated, the federal government on Monday met with ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union and Ireland in Nigeria and sought their understanding on its suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria.
But save for the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari, who deactivated her Twitter handle following the suspension of Twitter’s operations in the country, Buhari, Osinbajo and some other top government officials still retained their accounts, although they’re inactive.
However, the federal government’s directive suspending Twitter’s operations in Nigeria was silent on whether or not Nigerians should deactivate their accounts.
But a directive Monday by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had directed road and television stations in the country to de-install their Twitter accounts.
However checks show that Twitter accounts belonging to government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are also being retained.
Some of the accounts being retained belong to the Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Geoffrey Onyema; Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
Others include the Nigerian Police, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the
Super Eagles, the official Twitter account of Nigerian football team; and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), among many others.
While most of these accounts are not active, the same cannot be said of their aides who have bypassed the networks to tweet with their Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Also active are Twitter accounts of former Senators Shehu Sani and Dino Melaye, as well as el-Rufai who tweeted the link of a story on “Nigeria: African country teaches US lesson in how to handle Big Tech tyranny — RT Op-ed.”
While Akeredolu’s last tweet, on the attack on Igangan community in Oyo State was at 7.11 pm on Sunday, Makinde, at 9.45 am, on Sunday, tweeted to urge for calm over the attack on Igangan.
Also, most churches are still active on Twitter with both Deeper Life Bible Church and Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), justifying their accounts being active on the grounds that they need to reach congregants in other countries.
The RCCG, in a clarification, said: “The Redeemed Christian Church of God is domiciled in more than 170 nations & territories. The tweets here are in accordance with Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Article 19 of the UDHR said: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Also, the Deeper Life General Overseer, Pastor Williams Kumuyi said: “In view of the Twitter ban in Nigeria, please note that the content shared on this handle is targeted at a global audience in more than five continents and over 100 nations and we share the content from any of these locations.”
The federal government on Monday sought the understanding of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union and Ireland over its suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria.
It, however, gave conditions to lift the suspension.
Also on Monday, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, called for a speedy resolution of the dispute.
Addressing a press conference after a meeting with the five representatives of the missions in Abuja, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Onyeama, said they had a discussion concerning the issues of Twitter ban and based on the joint press statement earlier made by the missions.
He said: “We had a useful discussion with the countries that are considered to be close friends and partners of Nigeria. We sat down and reviewed the whole situation and we stated the security concern of Mr. President and the whole Nigerians and the very strong steps we’ve taken to address the security challenges of the country.”
Onyeama said they presented first-hand information about the security challenges of the country and also the role of the social media.
He stated that social media is good for dissemination of information, but it can also be used for good and the bad.
He added that the bad side of it has dire consequences on human lives and property.
According to him, it is germane to keep the unity of the country and to achieve all these, a decision has to be taken and measures put in place to ensure the social platforms are used responsibly.
He said as a democracy, the issue of fundamental human rights was expected to be respected, especially freedom of speech, adding that this should not be allowed to bring the country down.
He stated that the five missions and their countries have been supporting Nigeria even with its security and development challenges.
He said: “We have been having partnership and solidarity with the five countries. They have supported us very strongly in our security challenges, humanitarian crisis, development challenges and economic challenges, so we can say that these countries are our partners. We are asking them to also support us as we continue to confront all these challenges.
“We have listened to them and they also have their views on all of these issues and we gave them the opportunities to also expressed themselves.
“We are particularly gratified with the statement and reassurance of support and friendship towards Nigeria. We have to keep an eye on the main objective of this government, when Mr. President was elected, security was number one of his priorities and it is something he really wants to be able to deliver for Nigeria.
“Without security, everything else fails, investments go out of the country, regular migration out, it will be a vicious cycle.
“We will all be losers and our children, generation to come will all be affected. What we do today will really determine the future of this country. That is why this government gives priority to security, that this government would have to live in peace and security. And we have to keep our country together.
“What we have done today, will really define the future of the country and that is why Mr. “President is absolutely determined that security has been made and Nigerians have to live in peace and security and that we have to keep our country together. We listened to each other and clarified some areas.”
Onyeama, however, said the government was already discussing with Twitter on lifting the suspension.
He said: “As you yourself have said, discussions are ongoing with Twitter, we want to see how that progresses. So I cannot say for now the duration of the suspension. There are conversations with our partners and with social media.
“The basic condition is really responsible communication. We know the power of words and the power of words for good and the power of words for bad. You know when you have that kind of power to manage and facilitate the communication of billions of people around the world; it has to come with responsibilities. Absolutely, it has to come with responsibilities. So the condition will be a responsible use of media and that really has to be adhered to.”
Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos, Adedayo Akinwale and Michael Olugbode in Abuja