The Nigerian government doubled down on its clampdown on Twitter on Tuesday by accusing Jack Dorsey, the founder of the microblogging platform, of being liable for the losses Nigeria suffered in the aftermath of the EndSARS protest against police brutality.
Nigeria’s information minister, Lai Mohammed, stated this on Tuesday when he featured on “Politics Nationwide,’’ a Radio Nigeria call-in programme monitored by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja.
Mr Mohammed alleged that Mr Dorsey raised funds through Bitcoins to sponsor the EndSARS protest while his platform, Twitter, was used to fuel the crisis.
He said when he made the allegations earlier, Nigerians did not take him serious until an online media outfit carried out an investigation and fact-checking.
The minister said the online publication confirmed that Mr Dorsey retweeted some of the posts by some of the coalitions supporting the EndSARS protest.
He said it was also confirmed that the Twitter founder launched a fundraising asking people to donate via Bitcoins.
The minister said Mr Dorsey further launched an Emoji to make the EndSARS protest visible on the microblogging site.
He said Mr Dorsey also retweeted the tweets of some foreign and local supporters of EndSARS.
“If you ask people to donate money via bitcoins for EndSARS protesters then you are vicariously liable for whatever is the outcome of the protest.
“We have forgotten that EndSARS led to loss of lives, including 37 policemen, six soldiers, 57 civilians while property worth billions of naira were destroyed.
“164 police vehicles and 134 police stations were razed to the ground, 265 private corporate organisation were looted while 243 public property were looted.
“81 warehouses were looted while over 200 brand new buses bought by Lagos State Government were burnt to ashes,’’ he said.
The #EndSARS Protest
The EndSARS protest against police brutality in October last year started as a peaceful protest across Nigeria. The protest was led by young Nigerians who mobilised on various social media platforms including Twitter. One of the major demands of the protesters was the disbandment of the notorious police unit, SARS, whose officials had been accused of various crimes including murder, rape, extortion and other human rights abuses.
Although the government acceded to the demand and disbanded the SARS, the protesters demanded comprehensive police reforms, prosecution of police officers involved in various crimes, setting up panels to investigate various police rights abuses and so on.
To disband the protesters, thugs believed to have been hired by the government attacked protesters in major cities including Lagos and Abuja. Many of such attacks were witnessed and reported by PREMIUM TIMES and other newspapers with videos of some of the incidents also shared. None of the thugs was arrested and some were seen being backed by security agencies. The police also shot and killed protesters in various places including Oyo and Ondo states.
However, the shooting of peaceful protesters at Lekki tollgate in Lagos on October 20 by soldiers and police officers turned the protest violent as angry residents and hoodlums attacked private and public facilities.
Although the government claims it is addressing the complaints of the protesters, it has repeatedly twisted the narrative of the EndSARS protest with President Muhammadu Buhari even claiming in an interview that the protest was held to bring down his government.
Because Twitter was one of the major platforms used by the protesters to mobilise and raise funds, the government has repeatedly attacked the social media platform and Mr Dorsey. Twitter’s deletion of a controversial tweet by President Buhari, a tweet that critics said promoted genocide, worsened the relationship leading to the Nigerian government on June 4 suspending the operations of Twitter in Nigeria.ADVERTISEMENT
Lai Mohammed on Twitter Ban
On Tuesday, Mr Mohammed said it was unfair to conclude that the operation of Twitter was suspended indefinitely because the platform deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s message.
He said the government was unambiguous that the action was taken because the platform was being used to promote the views of those who wanted to destabilise the country.
Mr Mohammed added that Twitter consistently offered its platform to promote agenda that were inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria.
“Twitter has become a platform of choice for a particular separatist promoter,” he said in reference to Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the separatist group, IPOB.
“The promoter consistently used the platform to direct his loyalists to kill Nigerian soldiers and policemen, run down INEC offices and destroy all symbols of Nigeria’s sovereignty.
“Every attempt to persuade Twitter to deny its platform to this separatist leader was not taken serious,’’ he said.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Twitter only deleted some of Mr Kanu’s controversial tweets after the Twitter suspension.
The minister said the federal government has no apology to offer to those unhappy over the suspension of Twitter’s operations in the country.
He said a country must exist in peace before people could exercise freedom of speech and fight for a source of livelihood.
Mr Mohammed also said that Twitter has formally written to seek dialogue on issues leading to the indefinite suspension of its operations by the Nigerian government.
“I can confirm that Twitter has written the Federal Government that they are ready to talk.
“As we have always maintained, the door is not locked and we are open-minded but Twitter must work toward it,” he said.
The minister then reiterated the government’s previously announced steps which critics, activists and human rights organisations say was a move towards censorship and clampdown on the freedom of expression.
Mr Mohammed said among other conditions for Twitter to resume operation in Nigeria is that there must be an agreement as to what contents it could post.
He said Twitter and other platforms must also register as a Nigerian company, obtain a license from the National Broadcasting Commission(NBC) and be guided by the rules of the licensing as well as pay taxes.
According to the minister, regulation of social media platforms is becoming a global practice.
He said most countries were just waking up to the fact that the platforms were becoming more powerful than even government and needed to be regulated.
“Singapore, Algeria, Pakistan, Turkey regulate the social media, Australia has done so.
“Even EU that does not have particular laws on social media has made recommendations in a white paper,” he said.
The minister said that the UK initiated a new law that would make social media companies be fined up to 18 million pounds (about N10.8 billion) if they failed to stamp out online abuses.
He said Google was fined 220 million euros (about N110 billion) on June 7 by French Competition Regulator for abusing its dominance in the online advertising market in France.
Similarly, the minister said the federal cabinet of Pakistan had approved a new set of rules to regulate social media.
In the rules, according to the minister, companies such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even TikTok were to register and open offices in Pakistan.
He said in compliance with the new online broadcasting rule of Turkey, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video had obtained licences from that country’s broadcasting authority.
Mr Mohammed noted that the regulation of social media was not synonymous with stifling press freedom.
“We must not confuse press freedom with irresponsibility.
“How can you stay in your country and allow your own platform to be used to propagate war in another country?
“The suspension of Twitter is to ensure that no particular platform is used to cause war in Nigeria.
“Secondly, to ensure that whoever is making money in Nigeria must be made to pay tax.
“Our appeal to Nigerians is that they should understand where we are coming from.
“We have no intention to stifle people’s freedom or to cut off the source of livelihood of anybody.
“There must be a country devoid of war before we can talk of freedom and a source of living,’’ he said.