The Nigerian government announced on Friday that it had suspended Twitter activities in Africa’s most populous country, two days after the social network deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari. “The federal government has suspended, for an indefinite period, the activities of the microblogging service and social network Twitter in Nigeria,” the Ministry of Information and Culture said in a statement.
“The announcement of the Nigerian government on the suspension of Twitter activities in Nigeria is very worrying,” reacted the social network in the early evening. “We are investigating and will keep you informed when we know more,” the company added.
— Fed Min of Info & Cu (@FMICNigeria) June 4, 2021
Deletion of a message from the Nigerian President
The suspension comes two days after the Twitter deletion on Wednesday of a message from President Buhari that threatened those responsible for the current violence in south-eastern Nigeria, the social network believing that the head of state was breaking its rules of use. .
President Buhari’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed replied in a press message that while Twitter has its own rules, the president has the right to comment on the situation in Nigeria. He had notably accused the social network of tolerating the messages of the leader of a separatist group active in south-eastern Nigeria which, according to him, encouraged violence.
The minister also referred to the call made last year by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to donate bitcoins to support protests against police violence that rocked the country. “Twitter’s mission to Nigeria after these two examples is very suspect. What are his intentions? », He had launched to the journalists.
Outrage on social media
The announcement of the Nigerian government has very much reacted to Internet users on Twitter, where a wave of messages of indignation has surged. “This repressive action is a clear attempt to censor dissent and stifle civic space,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“This is the pinnacle of the muzzling of free speech that can only happen in dictatorships,” Nigerian analyst Bulama Bukarti wrote. “This will go down in history as one of Buhari’s biggest mistakes and one of his biggest public relations disasters,” he added.
The NGO Amnesty International called on the authorities “to immediately cancel the illegal suspension and other projects aimed at gagging the media, suppressing civic space and undermining the human rights of Nigerians”. “This action is clearly inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s international obligations, particularly under the African Charter on Human Rights,” denounced the organization.
“Familiarize yourself with the use of VPNs”
Nigeria is the largest democracy in Africa, but the government is regularly singled out by human rights organizations. In November 2019, the government had put in place stricter measures to regulate the media and fight against disinformation on social networks, which had been perceived by civil society as a restriction on freedom of expression.
The Twitter social network is blocked or has been suspended at certain times in several countries such as China, North Korea, Iran and Turkey. In countries where social networks are blocked, many users bypass the ban by using VPNs (virtual private networks). “Familiarize yourself with using VPNs. There are many free ones. If the telephone operators forbid access to Twitter, you will need a VPN to access it, ”Nigerian influencer Japheth Omojuwa tweeted to his million subscribers.