Nigeria appears to be back on track Twitter banHe described it as “temporary” after diplomats condemned the move and activists said it was linked to government anger at the company after brutal anti-police protests swept the country last year using the hashtag “#EndSARS”.
Telecom operators shut down Nigerians’ access to Twitter on Saturday on government orders following the company delete a job by President Muhammadu Buhari for violating abusive speech policies. Buhari’s post, which appeared to threaten to crack down on separatists in southeastern Nigeria, was deleted on Wednesday.
“There have been a series of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where the spread of misinformation and fake news through which it has had violent real-world consequences,” said Garba Shehu, Buhari’s spokesperson. “All the while, the company got away with accountability.”
The government, which has increasingly sought to regulate social media, has blamed the upsurge in violence in the southeast on the outlawed Indigenous separatist group in Biafra. Shehu said Buhari’s since-deleted tweet “only reiterated that their power would be met with force.”
“Big tech companies should be aware of their responsibilities,” Shehu said, without specifying when the Twitter “temporary suspension” would end.
This episode is the latest example of the growing tensions between social media companies and political leaders. Twitter suspended former US President Donald Trump in January, and last week Facebook said it would continue stop trump For at least two years.
Bukhari, 78, has long been accused of living in the past, particularly when the former general ruled Nigeria as a military dictator in the early 1980s and freedom of the press was curtailed.
Nigeria’s attorney general, Abubakar Malami, said on Saturday that he would prosecute violators of the Twitter ban. But on Sunday, many Nigerians circumvented the ban by using VPNs and posted messages with the hashtag #KeepItOn.
Local activists said the episode on Twitter is just the latest example of the government’s creeping authoritarianism. They linked this to protests over police brutality last year, when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted his support using the hashtag #EndSARS.
“Since EndSARS, the government has been uncomfortable with Twitter so it’s all about it [come to a] President with President Buhari’s tweet deleted,” said Eyadat Hassan, Director of the Abuja Center for Democracy and Development. “This government does not take criticism kindly, nor does it understand youth and the power of social media.”
Hassan added that the Twitter ban was “just part of the ongoing assault on civic space and Nigeria’s complete descent into authoritarianism”.
The movement to EndSARS, which refers to the Nigerian Special Anti-Theft Squad, has been largely dormant since the violent crackdown on Lekki Gate in Lagos last October when soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters.
The Twitter ban is “About EndSARS where the country’s leadership felt disrespected by how young people showcased good governance in the face of their bad leadership [shown] Activist Renu Udwala, 22, said.
Twitter is used by only a small percentage of Nigerians, but it is popular among activists, journalists and politicians. The company said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by the ban and would “work to restore access to all Nigerians who rely on Twitter.”
Diplomats from the European Union, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway and Canada criticized the move in a joint statement. The US Embassy in Nigeria added that the ban “undermines Nigerians’ ability to exercise” freedom of expression and “sends a bad message to its citizens, investors, and businesses.”
“The path to a safer Nigeria lies in more contacts, not less, along with coordinated efforts towards unity, peace and prosperity,” the embassy said in a statement.
Aisha Ussuri, chair of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, said it was “alarming” that telecom operators including Airtel and MTN had implemented the policy immediately without a court order. She said the ban reflects the way in which power has long been exercised in the country.
“We wouldn’t be here if there was more than one way to get power and have power over the people” in Nigeria, she said. “But because in Nigeria force must always be used harshly – we are here.”