africa

Nigerian govt’s continued #TwitterBan ‘anti-people,’ groups say


A group of non-governmental organisations has said the prolonged ban of Twitter in Nigeria is a disservice to the federal government itself and the citizens of Nigeria.

Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE), Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), and Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project (SERAP) at a press conference in Lagos Monday said the ban has taken a toll on Nigerians, especially those making their livelihood on the internet as well as access to information by Nigerians.

“At some point, Nigeria will have to choose between progressing as a country through technological innovations or impoverishing its entire population,” said Gbenga Sesan, PIN’s executive director.

The Nigerian government on June 4 announced the ban on Twitter, two days after the site took down a controversial tweet by Mohammadu Buhari, the President of Nigeria.

Although the government said it banned Twitter because it was being used by warmongers to destabilise the country, critics condemned the ban, saying it is one of the attempts by the Buhari-led administration to gag the civic space.

According to Mr Sesan, the ban was about “the ego of President Buhari and lies of Lai Mohammed,” the minister of information.

He said the present administration, having failed in doing its job of arresting criminals and terrorists who use social media, decided to stifle the entire population and make Nigerians suffer for it.

Mr Sesan said according to netblocks, Nigeria loses about $250,000 every hour since the Twitter ban, a figure arrived at using the Brookings Institution method.

‘A disservice’

Yemi Adamolekun, the executive director of EiE, said the ban is a disservice to the Nigerian government itself and its people.

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“It is a disservice to the government because government agencies like the NDDC were able to give real-time updates and keep citizens aware on COVID-19 happenings, but it is no longer able to do so due to the ban,” she said.

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Mrs Adamolekun added that although Nigerian citizens are faced with several issues like unemployment, insecurity, poverty, and absence of a sense of belonging, the government neglected their concerns and moved to ban Twitter.

“If the government of Nigeria wanted to ban Twitter, they could have done it legally, but there is no document, either a legal document or court order backing their action, this is a gross violation of human rights,” she said.

L-R: Ayode Longe, Programmes Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), and Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative (PIN) during a press conference on 100 days after #TwitterBan

Response to suspension

Ayode Longe, director of Programmes at MRA, said as soon as the Twitter ban came into effect, civil groups jointly condemned the action, and called on the federal government to rescind the decision.

Mr Longe said in response to the ban of Twitter in Nigeria, SERAP led 176 concerned Nigerians to file the first lawsuit at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice against the government over the decision.

“Following the suit, the ECOWAS Court on June 22, 2021, issued an order restraining the Buhari administration from prosecuting or harassing any Nigerian for using Twitter or any other social media platform in the light of the threat by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), that anyone using Twitter despite the suspension would be prosecuted.”

He said the action was followed by another lawsuit also at the ECOWAS Court by five NGOs, including MRA, PIN, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the International Press Centre (IPC), Tap Initiative for Citizens Development (TICD), and four journalists against the federal government.

Mr Longe added that EIE Nigeria also filed a N5 billion claim at the Federal High Court in Lagos against four mobile telecommunications operators in Nigeria over their blocking of access to Twitter.

Despite the legal actions, the Nigerian government has stuck to its guns in continuing the ban.

Lai Mohammed, the information and culture minister, said on 11 August that the government would “soon reverse the ban” as meetings have been held with Twitter and some demands made by the government.

According to Mr Mohammed, the government demands included setting up an office in Nigeria in line with Nigeria’s Companies and Allied Matters Act, and registering with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) among others.

Mr Mohammad said while agreements have been reached on some of the demands, Twitter is yet to respond to others.

Mr Sesan described the government’s move as insincere.

He added that the government is not only clamping down on social media but also on journalists and civil society groups.

“The court dates are far, but we will continue not just to tweet but, on behalf of Nigerians and those who are interested in freedom of expression, we will continue to express ourselves and demand what is right,” Mr Sesan said.

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