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Amid global criticisms, Buhari makes U-turn, says Twitter ban temporary

Local and international rights body say the ban of Twitter is an attack on the freedom of expression of Nigerians.

• June 5, 2021
President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

After much pressure across the globe, President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday night made a U-turn on the indefinite ban of twitter in Nigeria, saying the ban is temporal. 

Lai Mohammed had on Friday said Twitter has been suspended indefinitely in Nigeria, following the micro-blogging site deletion of Mr Buhari’s threat to repeat civil war genocide in south eastern Nigeria. 

“The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria,” Mr Mohammed said in a statement by his spokesman, Segun Adeyemi.

Since the unpopular announcement, Nigerians from all walks of life have continued to condemn the action. Diplomatic missions of Sweden, Canada, United States, Britain, as well as rights body Amnesty International have all criticised the move and called for its reversal.

Local and international rights body say the ban of Twitter is an attack on the freedom of expression of Nigerians.

Mr Buhari in a statement by his spokesman Garba Shehu has now indicated that the suspension is temporary and not indefinite as earlier stated by Mr Mohammed. 

Read full statement: 

PRESIDENTIAL STATEMENT ON TWITTER SUSPENSION IN NIGERIA

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.

Nevertheless, the removal of President Buhari’s tweet was disappointing. The censoring seemed based on a misunderstanding of the challenges Nigeria faces today.

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 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 recurrence of that tragedy.

Garba Shehu

Senior Special Assistant to the President

(Media & Publicity)

June 5, 2021

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