By Yusuf Alli, Managing Editor, Northern Operation; Bolaji Ogundele, Abuja; Alao Abiodun; Tony Akowe; Gbade Ogunwale/ THE NATION
Site sanctioned for spreading misinformation, fake news – Presidency
Canada, EU, UK, US, others kick over ban
Twitter defiant, vows to help Nigerians access platform
Malami orders arrest, prosecution of users of site
NPAN, NGE, IPI, others demand reversal of suspension
President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and 98 other individual Nigerians and organisations may lose 160,289,500 followers on account of Federal Government’s ban on Twitter, according to figures obtained on Saturday.
But the organisation appeared unperturbed by the ban, offering to help its Nigeria-based users to bypass the ban.
It said it had commenced efforts to restore access to its platform for Nigerians following the blocking of access to it by telecommunication companies in the country.
Many Nigerians immediately sought an alternative route via Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Downloading the VPN app appeared difficult on Saturday.
Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami warned that violators of the ban would be prosecuted, even as more condemnations trailed the Twitter suspension.
The United States yesterday told the Federal Government that its suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria is capable of sending wrong signals to investors and businesses.
The Presidency, in its first comment on the temporary ban last night, dismissed suggestions that it was in response to the social media’s recent deletion of Buhari’s tweets.
According to Rosbena.com, Buhari with 3 million followers and Osinbajo with 2.6 million rank among the 100 leading crowd pullers on Twitter.
The others include ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; a former President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki; the richest man in Africa, Aliko Dangote; ace Musician David Adedeji Adeleke (Davido); a former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Temi Otedola; another highly rated musician, Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun (Wizkid) and the winner of Grammy’s Best Global Music Award, Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu (Burna Boy).
The suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria may also deny some Nigerians and institutions robust following.
These include the Presidency, the Nigeria Police Force, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigerian Army, Pastor Enoch Adeboye; Pastor Sam Adeyemi; a former Vice President of the World Bank Dr. Oby Ezekwesili; Sen. Dino Melaye; Sen. Shehu Sani and Femi Fani-Kayode.
According to investigation by Rosbena.com, the identified 100 top Nigerians have dominated Twitter in the country.
The link says: “Rosbena compiles the list of most followed Nigerian accounts on Twitter.
“Unlike the most followed Nigerian accounts on Instagram which comprise mostly musicians and actresses, the list of most followed Nigerian Twitter accounts comprises mainly musicians, politicians, radio stations, newspapers and banks.
The breakdown of some of the 100 ranked accounts and their followers is as follows: President Muhammadu Buhari (3m); Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (2.6m); Bukola Saraki (2m); Davido (6.8m); Aliko Dangote (880,200); Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun aka Wizkid (6.3m); Don Jazzy (4.5m); Tiwa Savage (3.9m); Channels Television (3.7m); Burna Boy (3.2m); Dapo Oyebanjo aka D’Banj (3.1m); Olamide Gbenga Adedeji aka Olamide (3.1m); Banky W. Banky (2.9m); Peter P-Square (2.5m); Ice Prince Zamani (2.4m); Ali Baba (858,600); and Genevieve Nnaji (2.1m).
Others are musician Simi (2.1m); Wande Coal (1.9m); Comedian Basketmouth (1.9m); Blogger Linda Ikeji (1.9m); Governor Nasir el-Rufai(1.7m); Presidency of Nigeria (1.7m); Tony Elumelu (1m); Sen. Dino Melaye (1.6m); INEC (1.5m); D.J. Cuppy (1.5m); Nigeria Police Force (1.2m); EFCC (904,300); Temi Otedola (1.2m) Sen. Shehu Sani (1.2m); Pastor Enoch Adeboye (1.1m); WTO Director-General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (1.1m); Oby Ezekwesili (1m); Funke Akindele (1m); the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu (978,300); and a former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode (956,200).
Presidency: Suspension in response to long-observed misdemeanours
The Presidency said the Twitter ban is temporary but denied suggestions that it was as a result of the platform’s deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweets.
It said rather it was in response to Twitter’s long-observed misdemeanours, including misinformation and spread of fake news, which it said had led to violent ends.
“The temporary suspension of Twitter is not just a response to the removal of the President’s post.
“There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences.
“All the while, the company has escaped accountability,” the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu said.
He admitted that although the removal of President Buhari’s tweet was disappointing, “the censoring seemed based on a misunderstanding of the challenges Nigeria faces today.”
Continuing, he said: “The President in his address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2019 said ‘the world was shocked and startled by the massacre in New Zealand by a lone gunman taking the lives of 50 worshippers.’
“This and similar crimes, which have been fueled by social media networks, risk seeping into the fabric of an emerging digital culture.
“Major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities. They cannot be allowed to continue to facilitate the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages capable of inciting whole communities against each other, leading to loss of many lives. This could tear some countries apart.
“President Buhari has therefore been warning against social media’s disruptive and divisive influences, and the government’s action is not a knee-jerk reaction to Twitter’s preposterous deletion of his tweet which should have been read in full,” the statement said.
Reacting to the narrative that President Buhari’s comments in the deleted tweets were genocidal in nature or a threat to citizens, the Presidency said it was rather a statement of fact about situations witnessed during the Nigerian civil war, adding that it was rather an assurance that rights of Nigerians would be preserved.
It, however, noted that government would not fold its arms when the activities of IPOB, which it insists is a proscribed terror organisation, continue to put pressure on the peace and security of the country; a situation it said Twitter had refused to take notice of.
“The tweet was not a threat, but a statement of fact.
“A terrorist organisation (IPOB) poses a significant threat to the safety and security of Nigerian citizens.
“When the President said that they will be treated ‘in a language they understand’, he merely reiterated that their force shall be met with force. It is a basic principle of security services response world over.
“This is not promotion of hate, but a pledge to uphold citizens’ right to freedom from harm. The government cannot be expected to capitulate to terrorists.
“IPOB is proscribed under Nigerian law. Its members murder innocent Nigerians. They kill policemen and set government property on fire.
“Now, they have amassed a substantial stockpile of weapons and bombs across the country.
“Twitter does not seem to appreciate the national trauma of our country’s civil war. This government shall not allow a reoccurrence of that tragedy.”
Aisha Buhari deactivates Twitter account
Moments after the announcement of the ban on Twitter operations on Friday, First Lady Aisha Buhari deactivated her Twitter account.
She said: “I will be deactivating my twitter account for now. Long live Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
How telecoms firms stopped Twitter operations
Twitter operations went dead across the country at about midnight after receiving a formal directive from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The main telecoms industry body, the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), said it had “conducted a robust assessment of the directive in accordance with internationally accepted principles.”
It said: “Based on national interest provisions in the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, and with the licence terms under which the industry operates, our members have acted in compliance with the directives of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the industry regulator.
It promised to “continue to engage all the relevant authorities and stakeholders and will act as may be further directed by the NCC.”
It said it remains “committed to supporting the government of the Federal republic of Nigeria and upholding the rights of citizens.
“As an industry, we endorse the position of the United Nations that the rights held by the people offline must also be protected online.
“This includes respecting and protecting the rights of all people to communicate, to share information freely and responsibly, and to enjoy privacy and security regarding their data and their use of digital communication.”
The statement was signed by ALTON chairman Gbenga Adebayo and its Executive Secretary Gbolahan Awonuga.
We’ll help Nigerians bypass ban, says Twitter
Twitter itself appeared unperturbed by the development yesterday, saying it had commenced efforts to restore access to its platform for Nigerians.
“We are deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria. Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society,” it said in a statement posted on its Public Policy handle.
It added: “We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world.”
Nigeria had about 33 million active social media users as at January 2021 with WhatsApp as the most popular platform.
It has over 90 million users according to Statista.
It is followed by Facebook which has 86.2 per cent, YouTube with 81.6 per cent, Instagram with 73.1 per cent, Faceboo Messenger with 67.2 per cent and Twitter with 61.4 per cent.
Nigerians switch to VPN
Many Nigerians did not waste time to seek alternative ways of accessing Twitter.
While some shifted to Virtual Private Network (VPN) for the purpose of bypassing the restrictions, some others were struggling last night to download the app to find their way around the ban.
The virtual private network enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.
It also makes it appear as if the user is accessing the internet from another country, and has been a way to get round similar bans in other countries.
The term VPN became popular overnight, according to the search tracking site Trendsmap.
AGF Malami orders arrest, prosecution of Nigerians still using Twitter
Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami (SAN) yesterday issued a directive for the prosecution of violators of the ban on Twitter.
He directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) in the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to “swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria.”
He asked the DPPF to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication Commission (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to “ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay,” his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, said in a statement.
PDP daubs Malami’s order illegal, null and void
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) called the Malami directive blatantly unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
The party said the directive was not only downright ludicrous but shows the frenzied desperation by the Buhari Presidency to muzzle, victimise, clamp down on innocent Nigerians and foist a totalitarian system on the country.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “For Malami’s information, section 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that ‘a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law, and in this subsection, a written law refers to an Act of the National Assembly or a law of a state, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the provisions of the law.’
“President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC are informed that there is no extant law that defined the use of Twitter as a criminal offence and there is no penalty prescribed in a written law for the use of Twitter by any Nigerians.
“Moreover, they should also realise that the suspension of Twitter by the APC Federal Government, in addition to its unconstitutionality, only suspended Twitter operations and not the use of Twitter by Nigerians.
“The directive by the Attorney General to arrest and prosecute any Nigerians found using Twitter does not have the backing of any law enacted by the National Assembly or any state legislative house, and as such, Malami’s declaration is completely of no legal consequence.
“Malami’s directive to arrest and prosecute Nigerians using Twitter is therefore an attempt to suspend the 1999 Constitution (as amended); a development which bears the imprints of the leaked memo in which Mr. President was reportedly advised to suspend the constitution and strip Nigerians of their rights and freedom.”
Canada, EU, UK, US, others kick over ban
The diplomatic missions of Canada,the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria),Republic of Ireland,Norway,the United Kingdom and the USA yesterday expressed disappointment over the Twitter ban in Nigeria.
They also flayed the plan to register other social media.
They said in a statement that they “strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline.”
They added: “Banning systems of expression is not the answer.
“These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions,as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more ,not less, communication to accompany the concerted efforts of Nigeria’s citizens in fulsome dialogue toward unity,peace and prosperity
“As Nigeria’s partners,we stand ready to assist in achieving these goals.
US to FG: Ban sends wrong signals to investors
The United States told the federal government yesterday that the Twitter ban is capable of sending wrong signals to investors about the country.
“Nigeria’s constitution provides for freedom of expression. The Government’s recent #Twitterban undermines Nigerians’ ability to exercise this fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses,” the US embassy said in a statement.
“Banning social media and curbing every citizen’s ability to seek, receive, and impart information undermines fundamental freedoms. As President Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater.
“The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less, communication, alongside concerted efforts toward unity, peace, and prosperity.”
Makinde: Twitter is a source of livelihood for youths
Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State joined in appealing to the federal government to reconsider the ban on Twitter.
He described Twitter as a source of livelihood for many Nigerian youths.
“We should also remember that Twitter has gone beyond a source of communication for many of our hardworking youths in Nigeria,” he said in a statement.
He added: “It has become a source of livelihood for many, irrespective of their political affiliations or religious leanings.
“Nigerian youths and digital communications organisations earn a living from being able to use the platform to post communications on behalf of their clients.
“Others who may not have physical stores also rely on Twitter to give visibility to their products and services.
“As leaders, we should go beyond emotional reactions to issues and think about how our actions will affect the people we lead and our international ratings socially and economically.
“Twitter has become the platform for young people and indeed all Nigerians to exercise their fundamental right to express and publish an opinion.
“They use the platform to complain, argue and give feedback to government and its agencies who in turn, use these to improve policies.”
NPAN: Backtrack from Twitter ban
The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) called for reversal of the ban on Twitter.
Nigeria, it said in a statement, “retaliated with the cudgel against Twitter for alleged double standard in a hasty sanctioning of Buhari while pampering an unrestrained Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB),” who it said “has used same Twitter not just for serial hate speeches but for actually provoking and justifying violence in his separatist agitations.”
It added: “To the extent that Twitter may have been hasty in sanctioning President Buhari and shown an uneven application of its rules against separatist Kanu, its sincerity stands questioned. It should correct itself.
“However, The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) thinks that the suspension of Twitters operation by Nigeria is wrong and an overreaction.
“The action would not win us friends as closure of public space limits public discourse and democratic advancement.
“It is a futile exercise in any case, as other platforms are more likely to suspect Nigeria’s intentions towards democratic tenets and act adversarially towards Nigeria.
“Twitter is a global platform for public communication that has expanded the frontiers of Free Speech and Press Freedom. It is a platform for business that has brought relief to Nigeria’s youthful population who have prospered by its operation.
“The NPAN believes Twitter as a business is not infallible and can be influenced through high level engagement, to be a more responsive, liberal platform of public good and not a cynical champion of suspicious causes.
“There should be a compromise: Nigeria needs friends and not enemies at this critical juncture of her existence. She should not play into the hands of the enemies who are relentless is seeking to destroy and ostracise her.
“Banning Twitter is regressive and should be rescinded in favour of dialogue.”
Editors urge FG to rescind ban
In a similar statement, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) asked the federal government to immediately rescind the suspension of Twitter operations and seek other legitimate means of resolving its dispute with the company.
President of the guild, Mustapha Isah, and the General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, said the federal government’s action had the unintended consequence of jeopardising the economic interests of many Nigerians who rely on the social media platform for vital information to make informed business decisions daily.
Their words: “The suspension is a grave breach of Nigeria’s international obligations under article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“The Guild sees the federal government’s action as an overreaction to Twitter’s decision to delete President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet early this week.
“If the federal government finds Twitter’s action against the President objectionable, Nigerians should not be made to suffer the collateral damage of denying them their right to freely discourse on Twitter.”
It described the ban as an over-kill after Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed had initially “condemned the deletion of President Buhari’s view as an unacceptable tab on the president’s right.”
It said while the federal government has a responsibility to safeguard the unity, peace and stability of Nigeria, it ought to exercise restraint in expressing its anger.
Reverse suspension, says IPI
Similar sentiments were expressed by the International Press Institute ( IPI) .
It said the action of the federal government was detrimental to the free press in Nigeria which uses twitter as a major platform.
But it also told Twitter and other social media outfits to “pay greater attention to the content they promote on their platforms which violate their own rules,” and appealed to government to “reverse the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria and engage in meaningful dialogue with the social media outfit on issues of concern to the government.”
FG is right, says APC; asks Nigerians to develop alternative app
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) hailed the federal government for the ban on Twitter, which it accused of operating “in a trajectory that is a direct threat to the country’s national security.”
National Secretary Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of the party, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, said in Abuja yesterday that Twitter “serially encouraged separatists, arsonists, and glorified terrorists by offering them the platform to spread their terror messages; a situation no responsible government will tolerate..”
The party urged Nigerians talented in software applications development to seize the opportunity of suspending the operations of Twitter in the country to develop a home-grown application that can equal or even be superior to the suspended foreign application in meeting the needs of Nigerians.
Nigeria, according to Akpanudoedehe, has talented citizens that could develop an alternative application to Twitter and “liberate the country and other developing countries from the shackles and shameful arrogance that frequently manifests in the way Twitter disdainfully promotes confusion and chaos in the name of freedom of expression.”
He added: “We at the APC firmly believe that Twitter’s suspension will undoubtedly serve as a positive trigger to unleash the creative potentials of Nigerians in the global digital space.
“This is a challenge to the vibrant youths with such talents.
“They will get support in the exercise from the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy and its agencies as well as the numerous information and Communication Technology (ICT) training and research establishments in the country.
“The suspension serves Twitter right and warns other social media tools to toe the line of decency and show respect for their host countries.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria was right in suspending the operations of Twitter in the country for its role in promoting disaffection, derogating the country and its institutions as well allowing divisive elements bent on harming the country to use it as a channel to propagate and legitimise such destructive tendencies.”
Suspension provocative, obnoxious, says Reps Minority caucus
The Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives called the Twitter suspension provocative, obnoxious and unjustifiable.
Its Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, said the decision of the government to suspend Twitter “smacks of intolerance, insensitivity and aversion to the views, opinions and aspirations of Nigerian citizens, especially the youths, on matters of state.”
According to him, the development is capable of leading to further restiveness among Nigerians and worsen the situation in the country.
“Moreover, this action of the Federal Government, coming at a time the National Assembly is conducting its public hearing towards the amendment of the constitution, may constitute a major setback capable of diminishing public confidence in the exercise as well as other processes genuine efforts by the legislature to strengthen democratic tenets in the country.”
Muzzling dissenting voices can only postpone the ‘evil day’ – Shehu Sani
To human rights activist, Senator Shehu Sani, Nigerian leaders who are bent on muzzling dissenting voices will only succeed in postponing the evil day.
Sani, who spoke at a public event in Abuja yesterday, urged the federal government to adopt reconciliatory approach to dissenting individuals and groups, instead of seeking to suppress them.
Reacting to the ban on the microblogging giant, Twitter, the ex senator knocked the All Progressives Congress (APC) led administration for romancing the social media while they were in the opposition but attacking same while in government.
According to him, the solution to Nigeria’s problems lies with Nigerians themselves, adding that “we do not have a Moses to take us to the promise land.”
Likening the ban on Twitter to taking Nigeria back to the Stone Age, Sani said it is wrong for political leaders to descend on the media simply because they consider their contents unpalatable to their government.
Twitter deletes Nnamdi Kanu’s post for ‘violating rules’
Twitter has deleted a post by the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdu Kanu, for violating its rules.
The tweet appeared on Kanu’s handle on Wednesday, June 2 but had been pulled down last night.
In it, he had threatened death for soldiers sent to the Southeast by the federal government to stop the destruction there.
“Any army they send to #Biafraland will die there. None will return alive even if it means sacrificing my people,” he had boasted.
The deletion came 24 hours after the federal government suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.