NIGERIA’S federal government has vowed to keep up its war against social media platform Twitter despite suffering a defeat at the Ecowas court of Justice this week where it was barred from prosecuting anyone who defied its ban and used the facility.
Earlier this month, the Nigerian government banned the use of Twitter across the country after the platform deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari. This ban has attracted widespread condemnation and in response, the Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project (Serap) and 176 concerned Nigerians took the government to the Ecowas court.
After hearing the suit filed by the former chairman of the West African Bar Association Femi Falana, the court issued a landmark ruling, stopped the Nigerian government from prosecuting Nigerians using Twitter. In its judgement, the court held that any interference with Twitter is viewed as interference with and violates human rights.
As a result, the court restrained the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and its agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter and/or any other social media service providers, media houses, radio and television broadcast stations, the plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit. It argued that the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalisation of Nigerians and other people using Twitter have escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of Nigerians and other people to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom in the country.”
Despite the court ruling, Nigeria’s information minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said that as a sovereign country, Nigeria cannot be ruled by the policies or laws of a multinational corporation, no matter how powerful it may be. He added that Nigeria also has the duty of protecting national security and warned that Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms that they could be suspended if they go against Nigeria’s interest.
Appearing before the National Assembly, Alhaji Mohammed told members of the House of Representatives Joint Committees on Information, ICT and Justice, probing the circumstances around the suspension of Twitter that the government action is within the extant laws of the land. He added that Twitter is not registered in Nigeria and does not pay taxes either.
Alhaji Mohammed said: “Who is Twitter? We are talking about a sovereign country and Nigeria will not be ruled by the laws of a multinational no matter how powerful it is. So, for us, why did we act now? There is no time we took the decision that we will not have the kind of reaction we have now but it has gone to a stage after persistent appeals to Twitter, and we saw how policemen and soldiers were being killed and we said enough is enough.
“We owe no responsibility to Twitter. It’s not registered in Nigeria, it does not employ any Nigerian or pay taxes and there are other platforms available to Nigerians to make money.
“In the press release, we also said henceforth, all over the top (OTT) media platforms must register first as Nigerian companies and be licensed by the Broadcasting Commission before they can carry out business as social media platforms. We realised that many of the OTT social media platforms operating in Nigeria today are not registered in Nigeria, they make billions of naira out of our country, they pay no taxes and they employ nobody.
“That’s why we said we are going to suspend Twitter and at the same time all other social media platforms that are not registered in Nigeria must register. I know it’s true that many Nigerians have accused the federal government of an attempt to stifle media and free speech and we say no at all.
“There is absolutely no intention on the part of government to stifle free speech or the media because as you will see, while it is true that Sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of the constitution actually provide for freedom of speech, it is actually qualified by Section 45 of the same constitution. The only reason we suspended the operation of Twitter is because it was promoting disunity in Nigeria and it became a national security risk.
“As you can see the provision of the constitution leaves no one in doubt that the provisions on freedom of expression is not absolute. During the unfortunate #EndSARS protest, the same played a very unsacred role by making available its platform to re-tweet, not just the re-tweeting the messages of EndSARS protesters but raising funds for the EndSARS protesters before it was hijacked by hoodlums.
“Nigerians have forgotten that this particular #EndSARS protests led to the death of 57 civilians, 37 policemen, six soldiers, 243 properties destroyed, 200 brand new buses belonging to Lagos State Government, 83 warehouses were vandalised and yet Jack Dorsey crowd-funded the activities. That’s why I said that Twitter’s mission in Nigeria is suspect.
“We also all know that the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob) is proscribed by high court of law in Nigeria and yet it is a platform of choice through which it directs its people to kill soldiers, policemen, to burn correctional centres. So both in practice and common law, we had to suspend their operations.”