Nigeria’s indefinite Twitter ban sounds wake-up call on free speech
Last Friday, the Nigerian government announced on Twitter that it had suspended the platform indefinitely.
The move came two days after Twitter deleted a controversial tweet from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari about a secessionist movement.
In recent months, pro-Biafran separatists with the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in southeast Nigeria have been accused of attacking police and government buildings. In his tweet, Buhari vowed to “treat them in the language they understand”.
Twitter deleted Buhari’s post last Wednesday, calling it abusive.
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Buhari’s indefinite Twitter ban has raised concerns about freedom of speech in Nigeria and also the possibly disproportionate power of a US-based social media company to silence a Nigerian president.
Le Monde spoke to Nigerian writers Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún about the Twitter scandal which has been widely talked about online and offline about its implications.
Lagos-based Túbọ̀sún said the Twitter ban signals the government’s slide towards dictatorship.
“Not only were they trying to muzzle Twitter or prevent [people] to use it, they started talking about criminalizing the use of the platform … “
“Not only were they trying to muzzle Twitter or prevent [people] to use it, they started talking about criminalizing the use of the platform, which has gone from being a simple government regulation to actually stifling free speech and press freedom. “, did he declare.
“They were forcing media houses to remove their Twitter credentials.… [This is] recalling a time in the past when a president could simply say something through an executive order, ”noting that Buhari already has a reputation for ending dissent.
Nwaubani, based in the capital city of Abuja, said Twitter’s decision to delete Buhari’s controversial tweet sets an inconsistent double standard that is nearly impossible to regulate at any level.
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“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with a millennial, you know, swiveling in a chair in Silicon Valley – seeing the outrage of Nigerians, and he doesn’t know how many Nigerians he doesn’t know in which section [of Nigeria], he doesn’t understand the context – and just suppresses the tweets of a president of an African country. “
“As much as the tweet was misguided,” she said, “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with a millennial, you know, pivoting in a chair in Silicon Valley – seeing the outrage of the Nigerians, and he don’t I don’t know how many Nigerians, he doesn’t know in which section [of Nigeria], he doesn’t understand the context – and just suppresses the tweets of a president of an African country. I think it was also misguided, “she said.
Nwaubani noted that the Biafra separatist group also has provocative tweets that remain online, as do other high profile presidents and leaders in Africa.
” If you are going to [delete Buhari], then… go see all the presidents of Africa, ”she said. “You can’t just single out the president of a country and just delete a conversation he’s having with those people. “
Túbọ̀sún’s Counterpoint: It’s not about Africans versus non-Africans or Silicon Valley youth versus political leaders – it’s about rules and regulations for all.
“What we should demand is that the rules be enforced as well.… The president is not above the law. If you are signed [on] to use the platform, you absolutely must obey the rules. “
“What we should demand is that the rules are applied as well,” he said. “The president is not above the law. If you are signed [on] to use the platform, you absolutely must obey the rules. “
Nwaubani said Buhari’s Twitter ban is probably more about having a bruised ego and protecting his strongman image than anything else.
Túbọ̀sún hopes the lesson here is that no matter how badly a president’s ego is bruised, it is still the job of a democratically elected government to protect citizens’ right to free speech.
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But “Nigeria would not stop if Twitter were to disappear,” said Nwaubani, who noted that of Nigeria’s 200 million people, only about 16% use social media.
Still, there are around 40 million Twitter users in Nigeria, and many now use VPNs to connect to the popular platform, despite warnings they could be shut down.
This article is written on the basis of an interview and has been edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.