Nigeria Twitter restriction comes into effect after gov't decree

Abuja, Nigeria: Two days after the US social media giant deleted a post from President Muhammadu Buhari's account for violating its rules, Nigerian telecom operators announced they had followed with a government request to ban access to Twitter indefinitely.

International human rights organizations and diplomats have slammed the proposal, which comes after the government of Africa's most populous country attempted to regulate social media in the past.

"The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria," ministry of information and culture spokesman Segun Adeyemi said in a statement Friday.

The suspension was caused, according to the statement, by "the continual use of the platform for acts that are capable of harming Nigeria's business life."

The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) announced that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the industry regulator, has issued formal instructions to its members to stop access to Twitter.

It stated in a statement that it had conducted a thorough review of the request and that members had "acted in conformity."

"Network data show that access to the Twitter platform and backend servers is now restricted on leading networks MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile," the London-based internet monitor Netblocks wrote on its website Saturday.

The Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), which represents Nigerian telecommunications, said it was working with authorities "to achieve a prompt resolution of the suspension."

"While the Association and its member companies understand the position of the federal government, the reasons for the directive, and have complied with the directive, it is pertinent that the issue is resolved soon in the interest of all," ATCON president Ikechukwu Nnamani said.

'Actions of repression'

Amnesty International on Friday condemned the move, calling on Nigeria to "immediately reverse the unlawful suspension".

"This repressive action is a clear attempt to censor dissent & stifle the civic space," Human Rights Watch researcher Anietie Ewang said.

Twitter said that the move was "deeply concerning"

"We're investigating and will provide updates when we know more," the company said in a statement.

Following the president's reference to the country's civil war four decades ago in a warning about contemporary turmoil, Twitter erased a remark on his account on Wednesday.

In recent violence in the southeast, where officials accuse separatists of attacks on police and poll offices, the 78-year-old president, a former military, alluded to "them misbehaving."

"Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand," the president had posted on Twitter.

Lai Mohammed, the minister of communications and culture, accused Twitter of hypocrisy of ignoring violent tweets from a separatist leader.

"The mission of Twitter in Nigeria is very, very suspect," Mohammed told reporters after the US company deleted the president's tweet.

"Any action taken by government must be reasonable, proportionate, and not suppress core freedoms," said Gill Atkinson, the UK's deputy high commissioner in Nigeria, in response to Twitter's suspension in the country.

Because virtual private networks can help Twitter users get around the restriction, "VPN app" was the second most searched trend on Google in Nigeria on Saturday.

In Nigeria, where the median age is 18, Twitter has played a role in the public debate with hashtags such as #BringBackOurGirls after Boko Haram abducted 276 schoolgirls, and #EndSARS during anti-police brutality rallies last year.

Nigeria declared in 2019 that it would tighten social media restrictions to combat fake news and disinformation, but the bill has been delayed due to concerns over freedom of expression.

Several countries, like China and Turkey, have been chastised for restricting access to social media services like Twitter.

In February, days after a coup that saw Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders imprisoned, Twitter slammed Myanmar for limiting access to its platform as part of a social media crackdown.

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