Three days into the ban placed by the Federal Government on use of Twitter, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, has defended his continued usage of the micro-blogging platform.
The platform has played an important role in public discourse in the country, with hashtags like #BringBackOurGirls after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in 2014 and #EndSARS during anti-police brutality protests last year. The government claimed that the suspension of Twitter was to protect the sovereignty of the country but digital rights advocates said it was censorship.
Joining the Twitter conversation yesterday, Adeboye said tweeting is in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations universal declaration on human rights.
Using his official handle, @PastorEAAdeboye, the cleric who commands a huge following across the world, said: “The Redeemed Christian Church of God is domiciled in more than 170 nations and territories. The tweets here are in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations universal declaration of human rights.
“Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights reads: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”
Also joining in defending the relevance of Twitter was the founder and General Superintendent of Deeper Christian Life Ministry Worldwide, Pastor William Folorunsho Kumuyi, who also said the church has branches across 100 countries and five continents hence it can tweet from anywhere in the world.
Kumuyi made this known on his Twitter handle @pastorwf_kumuyi in reaction to the suspension of the social media platform by the Federal Government and a threat by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, that Nigerians still using Twitter would be prosecuted.
He tweeted: “In view of the Twitter ban in Nigeria, please note that the content shared on this handle is targeted at a global audience in more than five continents and over 100 nations and we share the content from any of these locations.”
The Federal Government had last Friday suspended Twitter barely two days after the social media platform deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari. The government has since then come under fire from many rights groups across the world for stifling free speech.
The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) announced in a statement on Saturday that it had complied with the government directive. Despite the ban, millions of Nigerians have continued to access the platform through Virtual Private Networks (VPN).
HOWEVER, the government has said it will lift the ban if only the platform can be used responsibly. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, gave the condition in a meeting with envoys of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union in Nigeria yesterday.
Onyeama noted that the micro-blogging platform was not taken down because it was threatening the country, but the ban was meant to stop Twitter from being used for criminal activities.
“The condition would be responsible use of the social media and that really has to be it,” he said, when asked the time the ban would be lifted. “We are not saying that Twitter is threatening the country or any such thing. Why we have taken this measure is to stop them to be used as platforms for destabilisation and facilitation of criminality or encouragement of criminalities. When you have the power to communicate, it has to come with responsibilities.”
Asked if the government is seeking Chinese advice on how to place a firewall around the internet in the country, the Minister said: “I am not aware of any meeting with the Chinese authorities in respect of social media.”
Twitter had called its suspension “deeply concerning” and said it would work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on the platform to communicate and connect with the world. More than 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, according to NOI polls, a public opinion and research organisation.
“Banning systems of expression is not the answer,” the EU, US, Britain, Canada and Ireland had said in the statement late on Saturday. The statement added it was “precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Speaking on behalf of the five envoys at a closed-door meeting with Onyeama, US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, maintained the earlier position of the five ambassadors that the ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government violates freedom of expression of Nigerians irrespective of the concerns by the government that the platform was being used to perpetrate hate speech and criminality.
“We recognise the official position of the Nigerian government on the responsible use of social media but we remain firm in our position that free access to information is very important and perhaps more important during troubled times,” she said.
“We are here as partners and we want to see Nigeria succeed. It’s very clear that we are Nigeria’s strongest partners on issues of security and we recognise the daunting times in the way of the security challenges that confront Nigeria. While they are daunting, they are not insurmountable and part of the way to surmount them is the partnership of the people you see represented here,” Leonard added.
The envoys were optimistic about the Federal government reaching a common ground as it was locked in discussions with Twitter. Onyeama also confirmed that the Nigerian government was in dialogue with Twitter on the best ways to resolve the matter.
Valentine Ozigbo, business mogul and international sports developer, also condemned the suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria and called on government to reconsider its stand on the suspension. According to him, the ban contradicts the constitutional rights of Nigerians to express their thoughts freely and access information.
“It is evident that this decision was done in haste and not well thought through by the authorities. It contradicts the constitutional right of Nigerians to free speech and also to access information.x
“The economic consequences of such actions ought to have been reviewed before such pronouncements. Twitter is a platform that drives business and creates jobs for millions of Nigerians, especially the youth.
“As a business leader and investor in technology and communications, I appreciate the role of social networking platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook in driving business and the economy. This suspension will have untold negative consequences to our economy, our image as a democracy, and the youth who use Twitter as a platform to advance their careers,” Ozigbo concluded.
Ozigbo, the immediate past President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc, called on the government to think about investor confidence and “how specific government policies will affect our ease of attracting Foreign Direct Investments.
“Nigeria is a country with vast opportunities for foreign investments. As a matter of national interest, the government should consider the common good while implementing certain policies” Ozigbo, a frontrunner in the upcoming Anambra gubernatorial polls, said.
FOLLOWING the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has directed all broadcasting stations in the country to immediately suspend the patronage of the platform.
In a statement yesterday in Abuja, Acting Director General of NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, directed all broadcast stations to de- install their twitter handles and desist from using it as a source of information gathering for news and programme presentation.
He observed that it would be unpatriotic for any broadcaster in Nigeria to continue to patronise the suspended Twitter as a source of its information and called for strict compliance.
Idachaba noted that the directive is in line with Section 2(1) r of the NBC Act, which entrusts the commission with responsibility to ensure strict adherence to the national laws, rules and regulations.
He said: “Section 3.11.2 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code provides that the broadcaster shall ensure that law enforcement is upheld at all times in a matter depicting that law and order are socially superior to or more desirable than crime and anarchy.
“Attention is also drawn to Section 5.6.3 of The Code which requires Broadcasters to be mindful of materials that may cause disaffection, incite to panic or rift in the society in the use of a User Generated Content (UGC).”
REACTING, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has condemned the patently unlawful and unconstitutional directive by the NBC to all broadcast stations in the country to suspend the patronage of Twitter with immediate effect. SERAP, in a statement signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, states that the directive is unlawful because it is based on another unlawful decision by the Federal Government to suspend Twitter in Nigeria.
According to the organisation, the NBC’s directive has political interference written all over it. It is a blow to Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, media freedom, media independence and diversity. The directive must be immediately withdrawn.
“Freedom of expression they said is a fundamental human right. This action by the NBC is yet another nail in the coffin for human rights, media freedom and independent journalism under this government.
“The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should publicly and vigorously express concerns over the Nigerian government’s increasingly brutal crackdown on media freedom, and use all possible means to urge the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to protect and respect freedom of expression.
“The international community should stand with the broadcast stations and journalists and make clear to the Nigerian government that freedom of expression, media freedom, transparency and accountability, as well as respect for the rule of law are essential to democracy.”
Also, the National President of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chorf Chris Isiguzo, yesterday said the ban is undemocratic, obnoxious and totally unacceptable, while it called on President Buhari to reverse the ban.
Chief Isiguzo stated this in his address delivered during the third NUJ National Conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, noting that such decision is completely at variance with democratic tenets.
“At this point, let me pause and express our views about the recent decision by the Federal Government to place a ban on the activities of Twitter in Nigeria. We believe that the decision is completely at variance with Democratic tenets. A key ingredient of democratic governance is the right of the people to free expression.
“At any time, the people are restrained from freely expressing themselves, then democracy takes flight. The decision to ban Twitter is undemocratic, obnoxious and totally unacceptable. We there ask the government of President Buhari to without delay reverse the decision,” Isiguzo said.
Meanwhile, the Online Publishers of Nigeria (OPAN), Nigeria’s premier association of new media and online news publishers, has urged the government to immediately reverse the ban on Twitter operations in the country and stop infringing on the rights of citizens to freely express themselves. In a statement by Austyn Ogannah, President, and Daniel Elombah, General Secretary, OPAN said: “The reasons adduced for the suspension or ban of Twitter have remained unconvincing because the Federal Government failed to exhaust other channels of communication with the social media giant.
“The action of the Federal Government amounts to killing an ant with a sledge hammer, and has given Nigeria a very bad image in the eyes of the international community,” OPAN said in a statement issued yesterday.
OPAN further decried the clandestine effort to gag social media voices in Nigeria and called on the Federal Government to “exercise restraints in dealing with issues that affect the youths, freedom of expression, media freedom, and those actions that could directly or indirectly widen the unemployment gap in the country.”