Fresh push for govt to rescind Twitter’s suspension

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Internet freedom lobby group Paradigm Initiative has submitted an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration seeking to rescind the ban on Twitter.

The lobby group, representing a list of 36 local and international organisations such as Access Now, Africa Internet Rights Alliance, Internet Society Nigeria, Kathleen Ndongmo, Open Internet for Democracy Fellow (Member, Netrights Africa Coalition and the Africa Digital Rights Network – ADRN) and Witness Africa, asked that the government lift the suspension enforced on June 4, 2021.

“The directive by the Nigerian government is at its core, an abuse of the rights of Nigerians not just to freedom of expression. But many other rights guaranteed in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the group said.

An excerpt from the latest open correspondence to authorities reads: “Twitter, just like many other digital and social media platforms, has become a space for Nigerians to communicate, seek and disseminate information, engage in public debates and legitimate businesses. Like many other governments across the globe, the Nigerian government has leveraged social media platforms to issue critical public information. A recent demonstration of this is the use of Twitter by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to issue information related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the NCDC Twitter account has a following of 1.1 million. This is an acknowledgement of the importance of social media in reaching a significant proportion of the Nigerian population.”

The lobbyists argue that, according to research by Netblocks, the Nigerian economy loses at least N2,177,089,051 ($6,014,390)  daily, since the indefinite suspension was announced.

“First, there is no clear and sufficiently precise law in Nigeria that provides for such action by the government. Second, the government is yet to demonstrate how the suspension protects the rights of others. Third, the government is yet to show that it has used the ‘least intrusive means’ of addressing the harm purported caused before the suspension. Fourth, the Nigerian government has failed to demonstrate that its action to suspend Twitter’s operations was not excessive and over-reaching,” the group added.

They want the government to restore access to Twitter for all Nigerians; ensure that the internet, including social media platforms like Twitter are open, free, and accessible; engage stakeholders, including the civil society, academics, human rights institutions, the private sector on the best approach to social media regulation and put measurable and specific processes in place to promote, protect and fulfill all human rights online and offline.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said it has started the reviewing the licencing structures in the country.

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Though the Federal Government has ordered the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to register OTTs in the country, telecoms operators had faulted the directive because the NCC, they argued was best placed to licence the OTT players.

Nigeria National Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet, Olusola Teniola, said the licensing regime did not take into consideration the fast and evolving nature of Internet Protocols (IP) and the advent of the convergence of voice, broadcasting and multimedia technologies under the same technological building blocks.

“The licence structure of the industry is very relevant to the infrastructure required to build from the ground up the basic elements of a carrier grade voice network and this has also provided a platform for data services and access to the internet where we now have broadband deployed across the country. ‘’

However, it is noteworthy that the licensing regime did not take into consideration the fast and evolving nature of Internet Protocols (IP) and the advent of the convergence of voice, broadcasting and multimedia technologies under the same technological building blocks. So in order for NCC to remain relevant its regulatory tools needs to be updated and brought in line with advances made in the digital realm.

“The Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-25 recommends that spectrum prices should be reviewed to allow for wider affordability of services delivery and this is certainly an area that should be of focus. Also 5G & 6G will bring with it tremendous opportunities to leap-frog the classical supplementary services that have been widely adopted and used in more advanced jurisdictions. In the case of Africa and in particular Nigeria, it is well recognised the national regulatory authorities may have to develop regulation that aligns complex data streams alongside ‘voice’ that will be viewed as just another data application as opposed to what it was in the past,” he said, adding that in order to ensure ubiquitous broadband and relevant use cases, the  NCC will need to introduce innovative regulation in line with the Nigerian Digital Economy Policy and Strategy 2020-2030 aspirations.

In early June the Federal Government indefinitely suspended Twitter’s activities in the country days after the micro blogging social network removed a post from Buhari which had threatened to punish regional secessionist groups.

In the June 1, 2021 post, Buhari had referred to the 1967 to 1970 civil war and promised to treat those misbehaving today “in the language they understand.”

Soon after the suspension was announced, Paradigm Initiative and six foreign missions expressed concern over the move and said it was tantamount to the abuse of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.

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