Late on Friday afternoon the Nigerian government announced that it had indefinitely suspended Twitter’s operations in the country.
The suspension came after Twitter took action against a tweet sent by President Muhammadu Buhari that was eerily reminiscent of a tweet sent by former US president Donald Trump nearly a year ago.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” Buhari wrote in a tweet that has since been removed by Twitter. This tweet was a reference to the two-year long Nigeria-Biafra war in which it’s estimated that as many as three million people from the Igbo tribe were killed.
Twitter took action and shortly thereafter, Nigeria’s Ministry of Information and Culture took to Twitter to announce the ban of Twitter in Nigeria.
— Fed Min of Info & Cu (@FMICNigeria) June 4, 2021
While some users poked fun at the idea of announcing a Twitter ban, on Twitter, the situation grew darker as the weekend wore on.
On Saturday, the day after the ban was announced, Nigeria ordered federal prosecutors to arrest and prosecute users of the app according to a report from CNN.
“The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN has directed for immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria,” reads a statement from the Ministry of Information and Culture.
While the thought that a VPN might help, according to the statement signed by deputy director of information at the ministry, Modupe Ogundoro, government is going right to the source.
“Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) 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 opetations of Twitter in Nigeria. Malami directed the DPPF to liase 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,” the statement continued.
Of greater concern to us are the remarks of Nigeria’s attorney general’s spokesperson Umar Jibrilu Gwandu.
When asked whether it was lawful to prosecute law-abiding citizens Gwandu reportedly said, “How do you call them law-abiding when they violate laws… when they want to create havoc, create issues of sedition, felony and are inciting hatred among Nigerians?”
“Every freedom has certain responsibilities – corresponding responsibility to the freedoms. No freedom is absolute. Those who are apprehended will get to know what sort of prosecution awaits them,” the attorney general’s spokesperson said.
As you might imagine, the move from the Nigerian government has been met with criticism.
“This action is clearly inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s international obligations including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” Amnesty International wrote in a Twitter thread.
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
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) June 5, 2021
Earlier this year Twitter called on users to share their opinion on whether all of its rules and policies should apply to world leaders. While Trump stomped and crowed loudly on Twitter about his content being labelled misinformation and more, he never went so far as to ban the platform in the US. That’s not to say he didn’t try though.
The Nigerian government is clearly not a fan of Twitter taking action against Buhari and we suspect that until Twitter opens a dialogue with him and other lawmakers, this ban won’t go away anytime soon.