Federal government’s suspension of the operation of American micro-blogging company, Twitter, in Nigeria, might have left both in a catch-22 situation as the duo have lost millions of followers that they had built for more than half a decade.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had last week announced the suspension of Twitter after the firm deleted some aspects of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet, which the company found to be in breach of its rules.
Following searing attacks of the suspension by social activists, who said it was an abuse of Nigerians’ freedom of expression as guaranteed by Section 39 (1) of the Constitution as altered, Muhammed added an extra reason for the act, saying the temporary prohibition of the internet platform was a response to the firm’s persistent violation of the nation’s national security interest.
The suspension order had attracted a directive from the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), asking all Telcos and broadcasting media to deactivate their Twitter handles and block access to the internet facility.
Many Nigerians, have, however, circumvented the federal government’s blockage of the micro-blogging facility, resorting to the virtual private network (VPN) to connect Twitter.
Although checks showed that Buhari, his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), and many government agencies, including the armed forces, ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), have suspended tweeting, some governors including Malam Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo) and Mr. Seyi Makinde (Oyo) have continued to tweet in defiance of the federal government’s directive.
For the Nigerian government, its agencies and millions of private sector users of the micro-blogging facility, it amounts to a loss of an instant communication tool, which had helped to facilitate the dissemination and receipt of information necessary for the conduct of their businesses.
Buhari, for instance, said an analyst, has lost millions of his followers that it has taken him six years to build. “He may have to start afresh when he returns to the site,” he said.
Agencies like Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that had used its Twitter handle to instantly communicate with the public information on the COVID-19 pandemic, would now have to revert to other pre-Twitter messaging platforms, including e-mail, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram that are not as fast, another analyst explained last night.
A day after Mohammed announced the suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had warned that violators of the ban would be prosecuted.
But senior lawyers have questioned the legality of Malami’s order, saying that it is not grounded in law, adding that Nigerians could not be prosecuted for offences not specified by law.
To calm the global outrage that the suspension of Twitter has generated, the federal government yesterday met with ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union and Ireland in Nigeria and sought their understanding on its suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria.
But save for the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari, who deactivated her Twitter handle following the suspension of Twitter’s operations in the country, Buhari, Osinbajo and some other top government officials still retained their accounts, although they’re inactive.
However, the federal government’s directive suspending Twitter’s operations in Nigeria was silent on whether or not Nigerians should deactivate their accounts.
But a directive yesterday by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had directed road and television stations in the country to de-install their Twitter accounts.
Checks yesterday showed that Twitter accounts belonging to government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are also being retained.
Some of the accounts being retained belong to the Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Geoffrey Onyema; Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
Others include the Nigerian Police, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the
Super Eagles, the official Twitter account of Nigerian football team; and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), among many others.
While most of these accounts are not active, the same cannot be said of their aides who have bypassed the networks to tweet with their Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Also active are Twitter accounts of former Senators Shehu Sani and Dino Melaye, as well as el-Rufai who tweeted the link of a story on “Nigeria: African country teaches US lesson in how to handle Big Tech tyranny — RT Op-ed.”
While Akeredolu’s last tweet, on the attack on Igangan community in Oyo State was at 7.11 pm on Sunday, Makinde, at 9.45 am, on Sunday, tweeted to urge for calm over the attack on Igangan.
Also, most churches are still active on Twitter with both Deeper Life Bible Church and Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), justifying their accounts being active on the grounds that they need to reach congregants in other countries.
The RCCG, in a clarification, said: “The Redeemed Christian Church of God is domiciled in more than 170 nations & territories. The tweets here are in accordance with Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Article 19 of the UDHR said: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Also, the Deeper Life General Overseer, Pastor Williams Kumuyi said: “In view of the Twitter ban in Nigeria, please note that the content shared on this handle is targeted at a global audience in more than five continents and over 100 nations and we share the content from any of these locations.”