‘…Ban in nation’s interest, not to stifle free speech’
…Govt has duty to protect the country’s sovereignty – BMO
…It’s lawful, legal, moral – Expert
…Proscription draconian, unacceptable – NASS minority caucus
… Twitter founder ‘funded’ #EndSARS protests – FG
For almost a week now, the proscription of Twitter, one of the highly accessed social media platforms by the federal government, has continued to generate mixed reactions among Nigerians. In this report, BENJAMIN SAMSON and TOPE SUNDAY seek whose interest the ban will serve.
The federal government on Friday last week suspended indefinitely the operations of micro-blogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension in a statement issued in Abuja, citing the persistent use of the platform for activities that were capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Countries that have banned Twitter
As of 2019, the governments of China, Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Turkmenistan amongst others had either temporarily or permanently blocked Twitter in their domains.
However, stiff opposition from human rights groups, civil society organisations, opposition political parties, celebrities, a section of the international community and the media has greeted the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. In a joint statement, Canada, the European Union, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America said banning systems of expression was not the way forward.
The statement was titled, ‘Joint Statement From The Diplomatic Missions of Canada, The European Union (Delegation To Nigeria), The Republic of Ireland, The United Kingdom And The United States of America.’
It read in part, “The diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America convey our disappointment over the Government of Nigeria’s announcement suspending #Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media.
“We strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline.
“Banning systems of expression is not the answer. These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less, communication to accompany the concerted efforts of Nigeria’s citizens in fulsome dialogue toward unity, peace and prosperity. As Nigeria’s partners, we stand ready to assist in achieving these goals.”
However, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) has said Nigerian authorities have a duty to protect the country’s sovereignty by moving against any entity that allows its platform to be used to promote hate speech and incite violence in the disguise of freedom of speech.
According to BMO, the decision to temporarily suspend Twitter in the country is in line with the country’s interest. In a statement jointly signed by its chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and secretary, Cassidy Madueke, the group expressed disappointment that Western diplomats from countries which were not known to tolerate activities that could breach their national interests issued a joint statement condemning the Nigerian government’s action on Twitter.
The statement read, “We make bold to say that none of these countries would tolerate what Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu reeled out in a follow-up statement to the announcement made by Information Minister Lai Mohammed on the suspension of the micro-blogging site.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Presidency made it clear that major tech companies ‘cannot be allowed to continue to facilitate the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages capable of inciting whole communities against each other, leading to loss of many lives. This could tear some countries apart.’
“We would want to know which part of the quoted statement does not resonate with those countries that condemned Nigeria’s action because it amounts to double standard if the UK does not see anything wrong with even moving against protesters, not to talk about religious extremists, but find offensive, measures taken against an outlet that is facilitating or encouraging acts of criminality.
“We recall how Twitter itself suspended the accounts of Americans who were accused of inciting other people in the aftermath of the electoral victory of the US President Joe Biden, but which supporters of the former President Donald Trump described as an abridgement of freedom of speech.
“US national interest was also described as the reason; the platform deleted #FreeAlexSaab tweets even though it has to do with the detention of an individual in Cape Verde that the ECOWAS court had declared as illegal.
“So, we endorse the decision by the foreign affairs ministry to summon the envoys of those countries with a view to showing them where and how they erred. Besides, it is only a suspension, not a ban and we are convinced that Twitter would be back as soon as it abides by the conditions set by the country.”
Likewise, Alhaji Mohammed insisted that the suspension of Twitter was done in the interest of the nation and not to stiflefreedom of speech, saying Nigerians could still use other platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tik tok, etc, to express their opinions.
He noted that the owner of Twitter helped to fund the recent #EndSARS protest while allowing the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, to use the platform to call for the killing of policemen. He added that Twitter failed to take down Kanu’s tweets despite repeated requests to do so.
“I want to repeat that Twitter has consistently made its platform available to those who are threatening Nigeria’s corporate existence. That is the reason for suspending their operations in Nigeria.
“It may interest you to know that most of the OTT and social media platforms operating in Nigeria do not have any office in Nigeria and do not pay taxes to the Nigerian government for the billions they earn here. That is not the best practice globally, and that is why we are insisting that for you to operate in Nigeria you must first be a Nigerian company and be licensed by the broadcasting commission.
“We have already advertised the notice to the companies concerned to apply for registration of licence.”
He also accused the founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, of funding the #EndSARS protest, citing the fact-check done by an online newspaper.
“So, whether he donated money himself or helped to raise money, the Twitter owner is one of those who helped to fund the #EndSARS protest that was later hijacked leading to loss of lives and massive destruction of property.
“Like I said last Wednesday, you can see from the fact-check the role of Jack Dorsey is suspect. His interest in Nigeria is inimical to our growth. Our decision to suspend Twitter has been lauded by some; it has been decried by some. But we want to make it clear that what is important to us is the sovereignty of Nigeria.
However, the joint minority caucuses of the Senate and the House of Representatives have called on Nigerians to ignore the ban and continue to use the social media platform. The National Assembly caucus, which described the ban as “draconian,” decried that many Nigerians are losing their sources of livelihood to the action.
The minority leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, and his House of Representatives counterpart, Ndudi Elumelu, stated this in a statement issued on Wednesday.
According to the statement, the joint caucus met over the ban and “restates its condemnation of the embargo as draconian and unacceptable.”
The opposition lawmakers also dismissed threats by the government to arrest and prosecute Nigerians for using twitter, calling on Nigerians to “go ahead and use their Twitter (handles) as they would not be contravening any law in Nigeria or any international statute.”
The lawmakers said they recognise the provisions of Articles 19 and 20 of the United Nations Charter on Fundamental Human Rights, which Nigeria is a signatory to, as well as provisions of Sections 39 and 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), stating that “by these provisions, no one will be violating any law for using twitter in Nigeria.
The statement partly read, “As lawmakers, the joint caucus is pained by the anguish Nigerians, especially the youths, who find the use of twitter as a means of livelihood and genuine social interaction, are passing through just because the APC-led federal government feels slighted that an individual’s post was deleted by Twitter for ethical violation.
“The joint caucus, therefore, calls on Nigerians to use various opportunities offered by technology and continue making use of twitter since such does not violate any law in our country.”
The clergy’s views
In his view, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, and the General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry, Pastor William Kumuyi, defied the federal government’s order directing Nigerians to stop using Twitter.
While Adeboye said his tweets were covered by Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Kumuyi said his tweets were targeted at a global audience.
On Monday, Adeboye justified his use of Twitter. In a tweet, he stated that his church was present across the world.
He wrote, “The Redeemed Christian Church of God is domiciled in more than 170 nations and territories. The tweets here are in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Kumuyi, while also tweeting, 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.”
Lawyers’ divergent opinions
Lawyers who spoke about the ban expressed divergent views on the action of the federal government. While some applauded the government, others said it was a step taken too far.
A lawyer, Dr Daniel Bwala who backed the federal government’s suspension of Twitter in Nigerian internet space said it is lawful, legal and moral. Speaking in an interview with Channels TV recently, Bwala also criticised Western countries that condemned the ban in unison as an attack on freedom of expression.
“What is the position of the law? And this is a fact that can be verified. In 2011, David Cameron threatened to shut down Twitter; Twitter had to comply. Israel threatened to shut down Twitter, Twitter had to comply. Turkey, France, Germany. In fact, in one of these African countries, they even had to shut down Twitter, and conducted elections before they came back to social media.
“I have cited the example of the holier-than-thou nations. When they were in their crisis moment, they called Twitter to order; but now it is convenient for them because they do not have a crisis. We in Nigeria are faced with an existential crisis and, therefore, the government cannot sit and watch Twitter, especially, not social media, whose founder has indicated a clear case of interest in Nigeria,” he said.
He advised the federal government to proceed further and lodge a complaint in the United States Congress to call Twitter to explain its interest in Nigeria. He said Nigerians who have suffered losses due to the suspension cannot secure a remedy against the government, but the micro-blogging platform, which they have agreement with.
However, another lawyer, Isaac Anumdu, said there was no provision under the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) which empowers Nigeria to mandate an offshore company to either register in Nigeria or pay tax except when they bring in physical goods.
“Right now, Twitter is not within Nigeria’s territorial jurisdiction. So, Nigeria cannot compel it to pay tax,” he said. He noted that if Nigeria was well guided, it would have immediately rescinded the ban on Twitter and used diplomacy to get the company set up an office in the country on its own.
Foreign social media users back FG
While some Nigerians are kicking against the ban, which many of them believe is an attempt to suppress them from criticising the government, some of the foreign social media users, particularly the Twitters users, viewed the development as an attempt by the Nigerian government to protect its sovereignty as a nation.
A Twitter user, ‘Chiquitina’@Chiquit910196, who responded to a post by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), an international news agency headquartered in Paris, France, on the ban, said: “Great, Twitter got to taste their own medicine. Great #Nigeria.”
Another user, Rob [email protected] jr, said: “Nigeria has an exotic form of governance where the state is sovereign, instead of tech companies.
[email protected] said: “That is so amazing of Nigeria; lovely to see that a government is more powerful than Twitter and Facebook.”
Rajma [email protected], said: “Good work Nigeria, Tech giants should be belted to serve users, not rule over countries.’’
FG on registration
Meanwhile, the information minister on Wednesday said he has already directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to commence the process of licensing all over-the-top (OTT) and social media operations in the country. The NBC as part of implementing the directive has also asked all broadcast stations to suspend usage of their Twitter accounts with immediate effect.
He listed conditions that must be met even if there is a discussion with Twitter, including that it must now be registered in Nigeria as a business concern.
“It may interest you to know that most of the OTT and social media platforms operating in Nigeria do not have any office in Nigeria and do not pay taxes to Nigerian government for the billions they earn here. That is not the best practice globally, and that is why we are insisting that for you to operate in Nigeria you must first be a Nigerian company and be licensed by the broadcasting commission,” he said
However, it appears the two parties will soon be on the path of reconciliation as the minister added that the management Twitter has already reached out to the federal government for discussion over the suspension order slammed on it.
He said further that Twitter management was seeking “high-level discussion” to resolve the issue that led to the suspension of its activities in Nigeria.