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Nigerians defy FG’s ban, attack Buhari, Malami on Twitter

Undeterred by the Federal Government’s ban of Twitter operations in Nigeria, Nigerians logged on to the microblogging site in large numbers on Saturday to lambast the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).

The ban took effect barely two days after Twitter, on Wednesday, deleted a controversial tweet posted by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on the Biafran war of 1967-1970 which led to loss of many lives.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who on Friday announced the indefinite suspension of the operations of Twitter in the country, cited what he described as “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”

According to him, the Federal Government has also directed the National Broadcasting Commission “to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.”

 Hours later, telecommunications companies in Nigeria, including MTN, Airtel, Glo and 9Mobile, started blocking access to Twitter, with the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria saying it had received a directive from the NCC to block access to the social networking site.

The statement titled ‘Order to suspend access to Twitter,’ a copy of which was obtained by Sunday PUNCH, was jointly signed by the ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo; and Executive Secretary, Gbolahan Awonuga.

Malami threatens arrest, prosecution of violators

Amid the palpable panic that trailed the announcement on Friday, there was a massive push among members of the Nigerian Twitterati to download virtual private networks as a means of circumventing the Federal Government-imposed ban.

 But Malami on Saturday ordered the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation to begin immediate prosecution of violators of the ban.

The AGF’s spokesman, Umar Gwandu, in a statement titled ‘Twitter ban: Malami orders prosecution of offenders,’ said, “Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has directed immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.

“Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation at 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.

 “Malami directed the DPPF to liase with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communications Commission and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.”

Nigerians fume, dare FG to arrest them

 However, the directive drew the ire of Nigerians, who protested the ban with the top-trending hashtag #KeepitOn that had gained over 260,000 tweets at 8.30pm on Saturday. Among the other top-five trends were #TwitterBan with more than 322,000 tweets, and #BuhariMustGo, which was tweeted over 90,000 times.

 A former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, tweeted, “Here’s a sliver of hope one finds in this tragedy of our @NigeriaGov’s #TwitterBan. The depth of the administration’s anger shows that our citizens are slowly but surely winning in their demand for a Nigeria that works. Citizens are maturing faster than the ‘leaders.’

“@Twitter enormously helped the emergence of engaged citizens and the voice in our land. Think of #Office of Citizen. The abduction of the 219 ChibokGirls was broadcast on this platform by @BBCNews. I am @obyezeks and vehemently oppose the #TwitterBanNigeria #KeepitOn.”

 The Editor-in-Chief, Stears Business, Tokunbo Afikuyomi Jr, tweeted, “2023 is too far. Let’s start pushing impeachment. Successful or not, the threat and momentum of it can be powerful for our present and future democracy.”

Singer-songwriter, Banky Wellington, tweeted, “S’oro s’oke!!! This is not the time to back down. This is the time to speak up and stand up for our rights. They just made young people more motivated than ever to participate in our democracy. No more apathy. #NigeriaBelongsToUs”

Co-founder, #BringBackOurGirls, Aisha Yesufu, in a series of tweets, described Buhari’s 12-year struggle to assume office as a waste, saying she was prepared to face whatever consequences awaited her for her defiance.

She tweeted, “I made peace with myself and have prepared myself for either arrest or assassination. They can only kill my body, but not my voice that is in lots of videos and audios.”

Popular #EndSARS activist, DJ Switch, tagged the Federal Government as “BANdits,” saying they “ban crypto, ban protests, ban Twitter.”

She added, “The regime is evil and autocratic. They are doing testing… mic check! Hmm… We are not ready to sacrifice! It’s the only way! It is time to act o! If you can use Twitter, I suggest every single one of us unfollow these government handles and agencies. Reduce their followership to zero. Let them use NTA! #TwitterBan.”

Also, Nollywood producer, Editi Effiong, tweeted, “Remember when DSS invaded the home of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and respected citizens clapped? Yeah, here we are.”

A political activist, Deji Adeyanju, tweeted, “Don’t allow them to bully you. The goal is to bully you with their illiteracy. Nobody can arrest you for using Twitter. I hereby volunteer myself for Malami’s experiment. Which police station should I report to for using Twitter?

 “When did the National Assembly meet to formulate a law that people who use Twitter in Nigeria should go to jail? And what should be the prescribed jail time? Malami is a disgrace to the legal profession.”

A medical researcher, Emeka Obiora, said, “There’s no law under the 1999 constitution that empowers the state to arrest law-abiding citizens for freedom of thought, expression, privacy and association. The constitution of Nigeria supersedes the whims and caprices and ego of President Buhari and AGF Malami. This is Illegal.”

 A finance and leadership expert, Bayo Adeyinka, said, “Choosing the VPN I would download was so easy when I saw one called Thunder. Thunder fire them all.”

A travel consultant, Nnayi Christmas, tweeted, “Shell is pulling out of Nigeria. Shoprite, Etisalat, Mr Price and many others have pulled out; even Twitter couldn’t set up operations all because of bad policies and high cost to run their businesses in Nigeria. Soon, Nigeria will be a graveyard to foreign investors. #TwitterBan”

Journalist, @iamOkon, tweeted, “There can be mass murder in Nigeria and the world won’t know. Twitter is the one platform Nigerians use to call global attention to a subject matter. The #TwitterBan can’t just happen because then, the government has succeeded in taking the voice of the common man. #KeepitOn”

Another Twitter user, @dondekojo, said, “They banned Twitter, please how is it a crime to use Twitter? Who made Malami a lawyer? How’s he the chief prosecutor in this country? What law is he relying on to make that ridiculous order to arrest Twitter users? Do we know how dangerous this is with our incompetent cops?”

Similarly, @baddestcash_ said, “Welcome to Nigeria, where the government doesn’t see insecurity as a problem but sees Twitter users as a major problem, since the AGF Malami orders arrest, prosecution of Nigerians still using Twitter, and still today, bandits kill 88 in eight villages in Kebbi State. #KeepitOn”

Tweeps not using our networks, telcos insist

 However, telcos said the Twitter users were not using their networks to access the microblogging site.

Asked whether the suspension of Twitter by the telcos was being done in phases, as some were still able to tweet despite the ban, the firms said they had suspended Twitter completely on their networks.

The ALTON Chairman told one of our correspondents, “We have disconnected Twitter completely from the national networks. There is no mobile network operator who has access to Twitter as we speak.”

Adebayo stated that many Twitter users were able to access the social networking site via other sources other than the telcos’ networks.

He said, “Virtual private networks are internet-based and so long as you are able to access the internet, you will be able to access some of those services. They are not directly connected to the operators, so the clarification I need to make now is that all operators have disconnected Twitter from our networks.

 “It is not partial or gradual, but a complete disconnection. Anyone who has access to Twitter is not through our networks. The Internet is an open source, so as far as we are concerned, we have fully complied.”

Twitter reacts

 Reacting to the ban, the official account for Twitter’s Public Policy, @policy, said, “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.

 “We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. #KeepitOn”

 Falana leads SERAP’s legal team to ECOWAS Court Monday

However, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project stated that it had already briefed human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), to proceed to court on Monday with lawsuits to challenge the government’s action.

SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, on Saturday, told Sunday PUNCH that its legal team, led by Falana, as of Saturday, was preparing two lawsuits ahead of Monday.

 According to him, the organisation plans to file one suit at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice and another at the Federal High Court upon the end of the ongoing strike by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria.

Oludare said, “SERAP is going to court on Monday. Femi Falana (SAN) will handle the case for SERAP. At the moment, we are preparing two suits – one for ECOWAS Court of Justice and another for the Federal High Court; we are hoping that the JUSUN strike would have been called off. We will be in court on Monday. Falana will lead our team of lawyers.”

US, LCCI kick against ban

 In a related development, the United States Mission Nigeria, in a statement on Saturday, described the ban as a violation of the citizens’ fundamental human rights and called for more communication rather than censorship.

 The statement read, “Nigeria’s constitution provides for freedom of expression. The government’s recent #Twitterban undermines Nigerian’s ability to exercise this fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses.

 ‘‘Banning social media and curbing every citizen’s ability to seek, receive, and impart information undermines fundamental freedoms. As (US) President (Joe) 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.”

 Similarly, the Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in its reaction expressed concern over the impact of the ban on the nation’s economy.

The Director General, LCCI, Dr Muda Yusuf, in a text to one of our correspondents, said, “The Twitter ban raises a major issue of proportionality. We should take account of the collateral effects on users of this digital platform.

 “Twitter is a valuable platform for dissemination of information of business or commercial nature, among other uses. But it could also be used as a negative tool of information dissemination. This imposes a major responsibility of self-regulation by Twitter.

“I believe there are better ways of seeking redress than an outright ban or suspension. The suspension poses a negative perception risk for the government as citizens are denied access to use of a major digital information and communication platform.”

Presidency defends ban, labels IPOB ‘terrorist organisation’

 Meanwhile, the Presidency in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Saturday, defended the decision of the Federal Government to suspend the operations of Twitter in the country, saying the decision was not just about Buhari’s deleted tweet.

 It also described the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra as a terrorist organisation.

The statement read, “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 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 fuelled by social media networks risk seeping into the fabric of an emerging digital culture.”

The Presidency argued that major technology companies must be alive to their responsibilities, saying they could not 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. He noted that such could tear some countries apart.

The statement added, “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.”

In a related development, the United States Mission Nigeria, in a statement on Saturday, condemned the ban of Twitter in the country as a violation of the citizens’ fundamental human rights and called for more communication rather than censorship.

The statement read in part, “Nigeria’s constitution provides for freedom of expression. The government’s recent #Twitterban undermines Nigerian’s ability to exercise this fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses.

“As (US) President (Joe) Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation and accountability has never been greater.”

Also, the European Union delegation to Nigeria; and the diplomatic missions of the Republic of Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom joined the US to express disappointment over the ban on Twitter’s operations.

Their joint statement read, “The diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America convey our disappointment over the government of Nigeria’s announcement suspending #Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media.

“We 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.

“Banning systems of expression is not the answer. The 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 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.”

Twitter ban regressive, FG should dialogue –NPAN, NGE, NUJ

The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, Nigerian Guild of Editors, and the Nigeria Union of Journalists on Saturday condemned the Federal Government’s action.

The bodies also urged the Federal Government to reverse its action. citing that Twitter as a platform for business had brought relief to Nigeria’s youthful population who had prospered by its operation.

NPAN, in a statement on Saturday, asked the Federal Government to reverse the order.

 The statement titled, ‘Backtrack from Twitter ban,’ was signed by NPAN President, Kabiru Yusuf.

 It read in part, “To the extent that Twitter may have been hasty in sanctioning President Buhari and shown an uneven application of its rules against separatist Nnamdi Kanu, its sincerity stands questioned. It should correct itself.

 “However, the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria thinks that the suspension of Twitter’s operations by Nigeria is wrong and an overreaction. The action will not win us friends as the 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.”

 NPAN noted that Twitter is a global platform for public communication that has expanded the frontiers of free speech and press freedom, as well as a platform for Nigerians to do business.

 “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 in seeking to destroy and ostracise her. Banning Twitter is regressive and should be rescinded in favour of dialogue,” the statement added.

 Also, the Nigerian Guild of Editors called on the Federal Government to tread with caution and immediately reconsider its decision.

 NGE also asked the government to seek other legitimate means of resolving its dispute with the social media firm.

The President of NGE, Mustapha Isah, and General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, made the suggestions in a statement issued in Abuja on Saturday.

The NGE said the Federal Government’s action had the “unintended” consequence of jeopardising the economic interests of many Nigerians who relied on the social media platform for vital information to make informed business decisions daily.

It said, “In addition, 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 rights to free discourse on Twitter.”

 The Nigeria Union of Journalists, Lagos State Council, also described the order as undemocratic.

 In a statement by the NUJ Lagos Council chairman, Adeleye Ajayi, and the secretary, Tunde Olalere, the union cited Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which states that every person shall be entitled to the freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and receive and impart ideas and information.

 The NUJ said, “The NUJ Lagos Council was, therefore, baffled that the Federal Government could carry out the suspension without having a second thought of the grave implications of the anti-democratic action.

“It is advisable that the Federal Government should rescind its decision by considering the huge number of jobs sustained by Twitter in the country. Other amicable options should be explored by the Federal Government to resolve the misunderstanding with the management of the social media company.”

Smaller ISPs record partial compliance

Meanwhile, it was gathered on Saturday that mobile network operators complied fully with the Federal Government’s order.

Investigations showed that some internet service providers had yet to fully comply as of Saturday evening as some of their subscribers were still able to access the site.

 A top source at the NCC said the ISP were not quickly informed of the suspension of Twitter, hence the delay.

 He further stated that the smaller networks did not have the infrastructure to act immediately like MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9Mobile.

 The NCC source said, “All the GSM networks have complied but the smaller networks haven’t complied fully. This is because they were not informed on time and they don’t have the infrastructure to take such actions immediately. But they have started complying partially, and by Sunday, we expect full compliance.”

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