Nigeria

Nigeria tells broadcasters to delete Twitter, as spat with Buhari intensifies

A man looks at newspapers at a newsstand in Abuja, Nigeria June 5, 2021
A man looks at newspapers at a newsstand in Abuja, Nigeria June 5, 2021 REUTERS - AFOLABI SOTUNDE

Nigeria's National Broadcasting Commission has directed all TV and radio stations to "suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately," describing its use as unpatriotic.

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The Nigerian government said it was suspending the platform on Friday, two days after the US social media giant deleted a tweet from the president's account for violating its rules.

NBC's director Armstrong Idachaba wrote in a statement this Monday: "Broadcasting stations are hereby advised to de-install twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source... of information gathering for news."

"It would be unpatriotic for any broadcaster in Nigeria to continue to patronise the suspended Twitter as a source of its information," he added.

More than 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, according to NOI polls, a public opinion and research organisation.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama summoned diplomats for a meeting Monday in the capital Abuja, after the EU and several countries issued a joint statement voicing concerns with the Twitter ban.

"Banning systems of expression is not the answer," the EU, US, Britain, Canada and Ireland 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."

President's tweet deleted

The government's suspension came after Twitter deleted a remark on President Muhammadu Buhari's account last Wednesday, in which he referred to the country's civil war five decades ago in a warning about recent unrest.

The presidency has denied that the Twitter suspension was a response to the removal of that post. 

Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement: "There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences."

Twitter has said it is "deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria" and that it would work "to restore access for all".

International human rights groups have also condemned the move, which followed previous attempts by the government to regulate social media.

"VPN app" was the second most searched trend Saturday on Google in Nigeria, as virtual private networks can enable Twitter users to bypass the ban.

Nigeria warned however that it would prosecute violators.

The platform has played an important role in public discourse in the country, with hashtags #BringBackOurGirls after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in 2014, and #EndSARS during anti-police brutality protests last year.

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