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Nigeria’s Ban On Twitter And Matters Arising

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Quite predictably, the announcement that the federal government has suspended Twitter operations in Nigeria indefinitely, generated angry reactions on social media platforms.

It was to Nigeria’s utter shame and embarrassment that the world woke up to learn Nigeria has banned Twitter in response to the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet, wherein he warned that those promoting insurrection and sponsoring destruction of critical national assets would soon have the shock of their lives.

In the controversial tweet after meeting INEC chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, Buhari said: “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.”

The tweet drew angry condemnation from many Nigerians who viewed it as insensitive, thus leading to a complaint to Twitter to delete the tweet which the platform eventually did; saying the tweet violated Twitter rules.

In a reaction of anger, the government announced it has banned Twitter indefinitely.

As a practical matter, this ban is an ignominious and reprehensible act of violence against free speech and, by extension democracy. It is shameful, appalling and unacceptable and certainly not in the public interest; and should be reversed immediately.

The monumental embarrassment came without prior notice. The suspension was announced on Friday by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, via a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Segun Adeyemi.

The minister cited the persistent use of Twitter for activities that were capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.

Mohammed stated that the federal government had also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.

The federal government had accused Twitter of taking sides and said it was suspicious of Twitter’s role in the IPOB agitation for Biafra.

For the government to take such an action, two days after Twitter deleted the President’s tweet smacks of retaliation more than the protection of the corporate existence of Nigeria as Lai Muhammed averred.

Censorship attacks the very foundation of a free society and embarrasses not only Nigeria, but democracy as a form of government.

President Buhari should not just watch the unfolding drama idly but should condemn it as it portrays his administration as a tin-pot dictatorship. This shame should never be brought upon Nigerians again.

To be sure, Buhari is not the first president to have his tweet deleted by the platform. On more than one occasion, the platform deleted tweets and even suspended the account of former American President Donald Trump which violated its terms. But by suspending Twitter indefinitely, the government is not only exercising control over freedom of speech but also depriving many Nigerians of an opportunity to make a living.

To many Nigerians, Twitter is more than a social interaction site. It is a source of livelihood to many Nigerians who have used the platform to promote their talents, products and services.

It is also a place where social causes are given a voice. For instance, the #BringBackOurGirls and #EndSARS protest gained global fame and traction on Twitter. Victims of sexual assault and domestic violence have used Twitter to share their stories.

Twitter has also been a veritable platform to hold the government accountable. The social networking site was replete with Memes and comments regarding FG’s action.

With the rise of tech startups in Nigeria, not a few global tech founders have shown interest in the country. In 2019, Twitter Founder, Jack Dorsey, visited Nigeria as part of his African tour.

His visit was greeted with fanfare as tech hubs viewed it as a sign they were getting the global spotlight.

Data from the German database company, Statista showed that out of the roughly 28 billion Nigerians who used social media in the fourth quarter of 2020, 61.4% used Twitter. It is just as well that the main opposition PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbodiyan, vehemently rejected what it described as an unwarranted suspension of Twitter, by the Buhari-led Federal government, saying it is a draconian action and a slide towards a fascist regime.

“The party asserts that the suspension of twitter, is a vexatious, condemnable and barbaric move to muzzle Nigerians, particularly the youths, ostensibly to prevent them from holding the overtly corrupt, vindictive and divisive Buhari administration accountable for its atrocities, including human right violations, patronizing of terrorists and outright suppressive acts against innocent Nigerians.

Our party is appalled that the Federal Government could exhibit such primitive intolerance and power intoxication because the social media giant demonstrated international best practices in not allowing the Buhari presidency to use Twitter as a platform to propagate and spread the Buhari administration’s hatred towards Nigerians,” the PDP noted.

This ban is clearly a solution looking for a problem as sundry potential offences like libel defamation and treason have already been criminalized under extant Nigerian laws. While the embarrassment went viral on social media, government spin doctors aggravated the national shame by suggesting that the fury over the ban was borne out of misconception and misunderstanding of the objective which is meant to protect all individuals and institutions, including journalists and social media users; who are committed to freedom of speech and a fully inclusive and participatory democracy.

At a time Nigeria is groaning under the suffocating grip of insecurity and ravaging corruption which has festered because culprits go unpunished, the need to entrench the rule of law and the willingness of all, regardless of status, to submit totally to it for the public good is overwhelming. Buhari should stop inflicting further pain on the nation’s psyche by failing to internalize the rule of law in the governance process.

In the 18th century, at a time of great strife and turmoil, and of new ideas versus old ones, Voltaire, the great French philosopher, wrote: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Freedom of expression is sacrosanct. It must extend to opinions mainstream society would never want to hear or consider.

Indeed, it extends over opinions that many may find distasteful, even repulsive.

Nigeria needs to ensure that freedom of speech is protected, and that those who want to speak should be allowed to do so, no matter what they choose to say. It is both dangerous and foolish to allow self-seeking politicians to ban social media platforms and dictate the legal codifying of opinions, whatever their motivation.

The foundation of any democratic society lies upon popular enlightenment.

Culled: Huhuonline

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