Nigeria has ordered all radio and television stations to “suspend sponsorship of Twitter immediately” and described its use as unpatriotic, the country’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) said.
The government of Africa’s most populous country said it would suspend the platform on Friday, two days after the social media company deleted a tweet from the president’s account for violating its rules.
“Broadcast stations are advised to uninstall Twitter identifiers and to desist from using Twitter as a source … of information gathering for the news,” said NBC Director Armstrong Idachaba. “It would be unpatriotic for any Nigerian broadcaster to continue to sponsor the suspended Twitter as a source of information.”
More than 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, according to polls by NOI, a public opinion and research organization.
Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama summoned diplomats for a meeting Monday in the capital Abuja after the EU and several countries issued a joint statement expressing concern over the Twitter ban.
“Banning speech systems is not the answer,” the EU, the United States, Britain, Canada and Ireland said in a statement on Saturday.
The statement added that it is “precisely the time when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of views, as well as share vital information at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The government suspension came after Twitter deleted a comment on President Muhammadu Buhari’s account on Wednesday referring to the country’s civil war five decades ago in a warning about recent unrest.
The presidency denied that the suspension of Twitter was a response to the removal of that 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 violent consequences in the real world,” said a spokesman for the presidency, Garba Shehu.
Shehu said the deletion of Buhari’s tweet was disappointing and that “major technology companies must be mindful of their responsibilities.”
Twitter said it was deeply concerned about the Twitter lockdown in Nigeria and that it would work to restore access for all.
International human rights groups have also condemned the move, which followed previous government attempts to regulate social media.
The “VPN app” was the second most searched trend on Saturday on Google in Nigeria, as virtual private networks can allow Twitter users to circumvent the ban.
Nigeria warned, however, that it would prosecute offenders.
“Federation Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami has ordered the immediate prosecution of violators of the federal government’s ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria,” said a spokesman, Umar Jibrilu Gwandu.
The platform has played an important role in public discourse in the country, including under the BringBackOurGirls hashtag, after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in 2014, and EndSars, during protests against police brutality last year.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism