Nigeria is set to retreat on its own Twitter ban, calling it “temporary” after diplomats condemned the move and activists said it was linked to government anger with society following protests of anti-police brutality that swept the country last year. last time using the hashtag “#EndSARS”.
Telecommunications operators have blocked Nigerians ’access to Twitter on Saturday by government order following the company deleted a post by President Muhammadu Buhari for violating his abusive speech policies. Buhari’s post, which appeared to be threatening to retake the separatists in southeastern Nigeria, was removed Wednesday.
“There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where the misinformation and false news spread in it have had violent consequences in the real world,” said Garba Shehu, Buhari’s spokesperson. “All the while, society has escaped responsibility.”
The government, which has sought more and more to regulate social media, has blamed the growing violence in the south-east of the banned secessionist group Indigenous Biafra. Shehu said Buhari’s tweet since it was removed had “only reiterated that its strength be welcomed with force”.
“Major technology companies must live up to their responsibilities,” Shehu said, without specifying when Twitter’s “temporary suspension” will end.
The episode is just the latest example of the growing tensions between social societies and political leaders. Twitter suspended former U.S. President Donald Trump in January, and last week Facebook said it would stay Trump suspended for at least two years.
Buhari, 78, has long been accused of living in the past, especially when the former general ruled Nigeria as a military dictator in the early 1980s and press freedoms were limited.
Nigeria’s attorney general, Abubakar Malami, said on Saturday that he will try violators of the Twitter ban. But on Sunday, several Nigerians circumvented the ban by using VPN and messaging with the hashtag #KeepItOn.
Local activists have said the Twitter episode is just the latest example of the government’s crippling authoritarianism. She was linked to protests over police brutality last year when Twitter executive director Jack Dorsey tweeted his support with the hashtag #EndSARS.
“Since EndSARS, the government has been unhappy with Twitter so that’s it [come to a] head with the removal of President Buhari’s tweet, ”said Idayat Hassan, director of the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja.“ This government does not take kindly to criticism, nor does it understand the youth and power of the people. social network “.
The Twitter ban is “just one part of the consistent attack on the civic space and Nigeria’s full descent into authoritarianism,” Hassan adds.
The movement towards EndSARS, which refers to Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Team, has largely fallen asleep after a violent crackdown on the Lekki toll gate in Lagos last October when soldiers opened fire on protesters peaceful.
Twitter’s ban is “on EndSARS where the country’s leadership feels disrespected by the way young people have presented good governance as opposed to the bad leadership they have. [shown] all these years, ”said Rinu Oduala, a 22-year-old activist.
Twitter is used by only a small percentage of Nigerians, but is popular among activists, journalists and politicians. The company said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by the ban and that it would “work to restore access for all Nigerians who rely on Twitter”.
Diplomats from the EU, the UK, Ireland, Norway and Canada have criticized the move in a joint statement. The U.S. embassy in Nigeria added that the ban “undermines the ability of Nigerians to exercise” freedom of expression and “sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses”.
“The road to a safer Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, alongside concerted efforts towards unity, peace and prosperity,” the embassy said in a statement.
Ayisha Osori, head of the Open Initiative Society for West Africa, said it was “alarming” that telecom operators including Airtel and MTN had also immediately enforced the policy without a court order. She said the ban reflected the way authority has been exercised throughout the country.
“We would not be here if there was more than one way to be in power and have power over the people,” in Nigeria, he said. “But because in Nigeria power is always to be handled hard – we are here.”