Condemnation continued to trail the suspension of Twitter by the federal government, on Saturday, with media and civil society leaders leading the calls for the Nigerian government to rescind the decision.
The Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed had on Friday announced an indefinite suspension of Twitter’s operations in the country on Friday.
In separate statements, the United States government, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (IPAN), the International Press Institute (IPI) Nigeria chapter, dozens of civil society organisations and a cyber security were unanimous in voicing their concerns over the government’s action.
Meanwhile, the federal government has said the suspension of the microblogging site was not in response to the removal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s post but due to a litany of problems with Twitter’s operation in Nigeria.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Garba Shehu, said Twitter had escaped accountability while misinformation and fake news spread through it, with real-world violent consequences.
“Major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities.
“They cannot be allowed to continue to facilitate the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages capable of inciting whole communities against one another, leading to the loss of many lives. This could tear some countries apart.
“The tweet was not a threat but a statement of fact. A terrorist organisation (IPOB) poses a significant threat to the safety and security of Nigerian citizens.
“When the president said they would be treated ‘in a language they understand,’ he merely reiterated that their force shall be met with force. It is a basic principle of security services response the world over.
“This is not a promotion of hate, but a pledge to uphold citizens’ right to freedom from harm. The government cannot be expected to capitulate to terrorism,” he noted in a statement.
Twitter responds, as #KeepitOn trends
Twitter, via its verified public policy handle posted on Saturday, stated that it was deeply concerned by the decision of the Nigerian government to block its service in the country.
“Access to free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society.
“We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. #KeepitOn,” the tweet reads.
#KeepitOn is trending on the social media, with Twitter creating an emoji of two hands holding a wireless icon.
EU, US, UK, others demand u-turn
In a joint statement last night, diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union, Republic of Ireland, Norway, United Kingdom and United States expressed “disappointment” over the suspension of Twitter and the government’s decision to regulate other social media channels.
“These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the point when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of COVID-19 pandemic,” the foreign missions stated.
FG to prosecute offenders
Despite the public outcry, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), directed the immediate prosecution of anyone still using Twitter.
Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) at the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to commence in earnest, the process of prosecuting violators of the de-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria.
This is contained in a statement by his media aide, Dr Umar Gwandu.
According to the statement, “Malami directed the DPPF to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication Commission (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.”
‘Breach of fundamental rights’
Legal practitioners have said it would be difficult for the government to prosecute offenders of the Twitter ban as no law was relied upon to make the pronouncement.
A senior director in the Federal Ministry of Justice, who craved anonymity, said the government could make a pronouncement, but any prosecution by the director of public prosecutions would be based on an existing law.
A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), said there was no law relied upon to make the pronouncement.
A senior lawyer in the Public Interest Lawyers’ League (PILL), Abdul Mahmud, said there was an attempt by the government to supplant formal rules in the constitution in Section 39 of the constitution by suspending Twitter and threatening users with prosecution.
“Section 36(6) of the constitution is very clear: Any offence by which anybody is prosecuted must be by written law.
“The Supreme Court decision of Aoko and Fagbemi in 1962 stated that you cannot try someone for what was not an offence when it was committed,” he said.
Maintaining that he is tweeting despite the order because his Twitter handle is his private property, Mahmud insisted that even if a law is rushed now to cover the offence under the Cybercrime Act, it cannot have a retroactive effect.
Also, Professor Ernest Ojukwu (SAN) said the order to prosecute Twitter users would not be effective as it is a breach of an individual’s fundamental rights.
Malami’s prosecution order Illegal – PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has declared that the directive by the President Buhari-led administration to arrest and prosecute any Nigerian using Twitter is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
The PDP, in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, asserted that the directive was not only ludicrous but shows the frenzied desperation by the Buhari Presidency to muzzle, victimise, clamp down on innocent Nigerians and foist a totalitarian system on the country.
“The PDP states that nothing in our extant laws, not even the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, constitutionally criminalised the use of the platform by Nigerians or empowers the federal government to arrest and prosecute any Nigerian for using it.”
A cyber security researcher in the University of Bedfordshire, England, Muhammad Hamisu Sharifai, said there were better options available to the Nigerian government instead of suspending operations of Twitter.
He said the government could regulate social media and the internet such that it would abide by the country’s law and respect its sovereignty.
“Unfortunately, Nigeria is yet to have such laws, though one is in the Senate.
“That does not mean denying the people freedom of speech; it only means people using the platform have to be wary of what they are posting,” he said.
He said the government could also promote the creation of a local social media site to be owned and operated by Nigerians and hosted in Nigeria, as well as establish a national cyber security agency, just like other developed countries had agencies like the US NSA and UK GCHQ.
Sharifai also advised the military cyber force to be proactive in monitoring and responding to external threats over the Nigerian cyber space, including the circulation of fake news, misinformation and propaganda against the government.
CSOs flay ban
While describing the ban as an attack on free civic space, 54 civil society organisations (CSOs) have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to declare himself as a military junta.
A consortium of 41 CSOs cutting across religious and human rights divides and 13 others under the aegis of Action Group on Free Civic Space, in separate statements, expressed shock and displeasure over the suspension.
The groups condemned the suspension, saying the action not only constitutes gross and reprehensible attack on the freedom of expression of millions of citizens but also portends a great danger for internet freedom and the civic space in Nigeria.
The group further stated that President Buhari’s disposition towards civil liberties, including the current suspension, cast doubts on the claims that he is now a reformed democrat.
They said the president should either resign or let the citizens know that he has staged a coup against his own democratically elected government by announcing himself as a military junta, so that he can be related to as such.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has said the suspension of the operations of Twitter in the country was in national interest.
The ruling party said Nigerians should defend the country’s sovereignty by supporting the federal government.
The secretary of the APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, in a statement on Saturday, noted that Nigeria had the potentials and talents that could develop alternative and competitive applications to existing platforms in the world.
Reps minority caucus reacts
The Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives has condemned the suspension, describing it as provocative, obnoxious and unjustifiable.
In a statement on Saturday, signed by the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, the caucus noted that the ban was capable of leading to further restiveness among Nigerians and worsen the situation in the country.
“This action of the federal government at a time the National Assembly is conducting its public hearing towards the amendment of the constitution may constitute a major setback capable of diminishing public confidence in the exercise, as well as other genuine efforts by the legislature to strengthen democratic tenets in the country,” the lawmakers stated.
The caucus, therefore, called on President Buhari to immediately reverse the suspension placed on Twitter so as not to exacerbate the already tense situation in the country.
IPI, NPAN, NGE seek reversal of suspension
The International Press Institute (IPI), the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) unanimously asked the government to reverse the suspension of the operations of Twitter in Nigeria, describing it as wrong and an overreaction.
The associations, in separate statements, called for dialogue in resolving the issues between the federal government and the microblogging platform.
The chairman of IPI, Nigeria, Kabiru Yusuf, in the statement jointly signed by the group’s secretary, Raheem Adedoyin, said the action was detrimental to free press in Nigeria, which uses Twitter as a major platform.
“The IPI notes the concern of the government on the use of Twitter and other social media platforms to promote hate speech and disinformation. We urge Twitter and other social media outfits to pay greater attention to the content they promote on their platforms, which violate their own rules,” the statement reads.
President of NPAN, Kabiru A. Yusuf said though Twitter might have been hasty in sanctioning President Buhari and reluctant to reign in Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the suspension by the government is “wrong and an overreaction”.
The NPAN leadership called for the lifting of the ban and open dialogue as a compromise.
“If the federal government finds Twitter’s action against the President objectionable, Nigerians should not be made to suffer the collateral damage of denying them their right to freely discourse on Twitter’’, the NGE said in a statement by its president Mustapha Isah and secretary Iyoboasa Uwugiaren.
Buhari’s decision ill-informed, undemocratic – CITAD
The executive director of the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Dr Y. Z Ya’u, has described federal government’s decision to ban the operations of Twitter in Nigeria as undemocratic and unconstitutional.
Ya’u, who was speaking at a press conference on Saturday in Kano, also said the government had been ill-informed about the decision.
Dr Ya’u said the government was jeopardising the jobs of the Nigerian staff of Twitter and derogating the right of Nigerians to freedom of expression.
He said many countries had unsuccessfully tried to block social media access for their citizens, but the increasing number of bypass technologies means that such an action is fruitless and rather a drain on useful resource that could be used to educate citizens on how to use the internet.
How Nigerians are accessing Twitter despite FG ban
Many Nigerians who thought the ban of the micro-blogging platform, Twitter, was a joke, woke up on Saturday morning to realise that the federal government had indeed blocked access to it as many internet users in Nigeria couldn’t access the platform.
Many experts had doubted the capacity of the government to enforce the purported ban as the platform was still active as at Friday night.
While many are still riled about the ban, others have switched to alternative ways of accessing the platform.
Here are the few options many people have adopted to access Twitter in Nigeria despite the ban by the federal government:
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an encrypted connection over the internet from a device to a network.
The encrypted connection helps ensure that sensitive data is safely transmitted. It prevents unauthorised people from eavesdropping on the traffic and allows the user to conduct work remotely.
The VPN technology is widely used in corporate environments. It extends a corporate network through encrypted connections made over the internet.
Because the traffic is encrypted between the device and the network, traffic remains private as it travels.
An employee can work outside the office and still securely connect to the corporate network. Even smartphones and tablets can connect through a VPN.
Since the ban, many Nigerians have downloaded this application to boycott the ban.
VPN allows them to use another country’s internet protocol (IP) address to access Twitter.
With VPN, it will look as though they are accessing Twitter from another country outside Nigeria where its access has been banned.
There are many VPNs on app stores, which include: TurboVPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark, Hotspot Shield, NordVPN, IPVanish and many more.
Tor is a browser that allows Nigerians to access Twitter despite its ban in the country.
It is free and open-source software for enabling anonymous communication. It directs internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer overlay network, consisting of more than 7,000 relays for concealing a user’s location and usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis.
Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace the internet activity to the user. This includes “visits to websites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms.”
Tor’s intended use is to protect the personal privacy of its users, as well as their freedom and ability to conduct confidential communication by keeping their internet activities unmonitored.
By Kehinde Abdulsalam, Taiwo Adeniyi, John Chuks Azu, Abbas Jimoh, Saawua Terzungwe, Balarabe Alkassim, Hamisu Kabir Matazu (Abuja), Christiana T. Alabi, Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos) & Sani Ibrahim Paki (Kano)