Nigeria has lifted a seven-month ban on Twitter, which it imposed after the microblogging platform deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari it deemed offensive. Nigeria’s Twitter users and free speech supporters welcome the ban being lifted, but they also question how much the company has bent its rules to restore market access to Africa’s largest population.
The end of the Twitter ban came into effect at 12 a.m.Thursday.
A statement released by the chairman of the negotiation committee between Nigerian officials and Twitter, Kashifu Inuwa, said the lifting of the ban was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari following the committee’s recommendations.
The statement said Twitter agreed to be legally registered in Nigeria, run a local office, appoint country representatives to interface with authorities, pay taxes and enroll officials in its partner support portals – giving authorities access to monitor and manage prohibited contents.
Human rights activists say they are concerned by the list of conditions, citing authorities’ past attempts to stifle free speech.
Seun Bakare, Amnesty International’s spokesperson, says nothing is publicly known about any new rules.
“Amnesty International is not privy to the details of the agreement that the Nigerian government has reached with Twitter. We do not know how much Twitter has had to bend it’s rules on offensive tweets to restore market access to Nigeria, but one thing we know is that if these rules are against fundamental principles of freedom of expression, access to information, we will begin a campaign again to say no,” Bakare said.
Twitter did not confirm it had agreed to the government demands but said in a tweet Thursday: “We are deeply committed to Nigeria, where Twitter is used by people for commerce, cultural engagement, and civic participation.”
The Nigerian government banned Twitter in June of last year following the removal of a tweet by Buhari that threatened regional separatist groups in strong terms, violating the company’s rules of engagement.
Nigerian authorities said Twitter was being used too often to promote fake news and polarize Nigerians along tribal and religious lines.
The lifting Thursday allows millions of Twitter users like Abdullahi Otaki to resume their accounts and messaging.
“Personally, I was very excited, a lot of Nigerians are excited as well. It’s been very difficult for online vendors as their businesses were on stand-still, so it’s a welcome development,” Otaki said.
However, human rights activist and co-founder of Center for Liberty Nigeria, Ariyo Dare, says the lifting of the ban was not people-oriented.
“There’s nothing to be excited about regarding the latest unbanning of Twitter in Nigeria. The decision was taken for regime protection, it was taken to protect the ego of the president, it was not done in national interest,” Dare said.
During the ban, many users avoided the government’s restriction using virtual private networks to operate Twitter locally.
But most major businesses and corporations, including many news agencies, complied with the government’s ban.