Nigeria has lifted a ban on Twitter, restoring access to millions of users, seven months after it clamped down on the social media site in a row over Twitter’s decision to delete a post by the president.
The government said the company had agreed to its conditions on the management of unlawful content, to registering its operations in Nigeria and to a new tax arrangement.
“The FGN [federal government of Nigeria] lifts the suspension of the Twitter operations in Nigeria from midnight of 13 January 2022,” said a statement from Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, the director-general of Nigeria’s National Information Technology Development Agency.
“The FGN has asked Twitter to fulfil some conditions before restoring its services. These conditions addressed legal registration of operations, taxation, and managing prohibited publication in line with Nigerian laws. Twitter has agreed to meet all the conditions.”
The company had agreed to set up offices in Nigeria earlier this year, register its company in the country and comply with tax obligations, the government said.
Nigeria would also be added to Twitter’s “partner support and law enforcement portals”, a channel for governments and organisations to deal more effectively with potentially unlawful or abusive posts.
Twitter did not acknowledge the concessions stated by the government, but said in a statement: “We are pleased that Twitter has been restored for everyone in Nigeria. Our mission in Nigeria and around the world is to serve the public conversation.”
The Twitter ban was widely condemned by millions of users and rights groups. Nigerian authorities initially threatened to prosecute users and companies who defied the ban.
Relations between Nigeria’s government and Twitter had been difficult for a while. Officials often criticised the company for not doing enough to curb abusive posts and hate speech, and blamed it for destabilising the country because protest movements used social media as an organising tool. Fears of repression and curbs on free speech by Muhammadu Buhari’s government have grown in recent years, amid clampdowns on journalists and protest groups, including on key figures in the EndSars protests against police brutality in October 2020.
The ban started two days after Twitter removed a post from the president that threatened to punish secessionists, which sparked mass outrage.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Biafra war,” Buhari wrote. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” referencing his role as a brigade major during the Biafra war, one of the darkest chapters in Nigeria’s history. The war ended the attempts by mainly Igbo people in south-east Nigeria to create an independent nation of Biafra and many of the atrocities committed during the conflict have not been acknowledged.”
After the ban, the information minister, Lai Mohammed, said the government had acted because of “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
Twitter and Nigeria’s government then began discussions on the conditions that would require the social media giant to become operational in Nigeria. The government said the agreed conditions “opens a new chapter in global digital diplomacy” and “set a new operational template for Twitter to come back stronger for the benefit of Nigerians”.