Nigeria blocks mobile access to Twitter

Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari has described the ban as “temporary”, however, it is unclear when it will be lifted. (Source: IMAGO / ITAR-TASS)

Since Saturday, access to Twitter via mobile internet has been largely blocked in Nigeria. The Association of Telecommunication Companies in Nigeria announced that a government directive had been implemented. It is unclear how long the ban will be upheld.

The government of Africa’s largest democracy with more than 200 million inhabitants had surprisingly announced the ban on Friday evening without giving a concrete reason. The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture justified it by saying that the platform was repeatedly used for activities capable of “undermining Nigeria’s existence”.

The NetBlocks organisation had confirmed the ban on Saturday. Access to Twitter was restricted for costumers of leading wireless service providers MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile. Some, but not all, internet users in the country were affected. Most people in Nigeria only use the internet via mobile phones.

Twitter had deleted presidential tweet

Last Wednesday, Twitter deleted a controversial tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari about the Nigerian civil war and suspended his account for twelve hours. This decision was “disappointing”, according to a press release published on the president’s Facebook page on Saturday. However, this was not the only reason for the nationwide ban. Apparently, Twitter was used to spread misinformation and “fake news”, some of which had violent consequences in Nigeria, without the platform being held accountable. The announcement described the block as “temporary”, but it did not give a date for a possible end. The government has also ordered radio and television stations to stop using Twitter.

Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami threatened Nigerian citizens who try to circumvent the Twitter block with immediate prosecution.

Despite the possible consequences, many Nigerians accessed Twitter via VPN connections and voiced their displeasure. “I am tweeting from Nigeria, come and arrest me,” wrote human rights activist Deji Adeyanju. He said he was ready to go to jail for it.

International criticism

The government’s actions provoked strong criticism: the Nigerian Bar Association announced legal action would be taken should the ban remain in place.

The European Union, the USA, Canada and Great Britain expressed their disappointment in a joint statement on Saturday. Blocking platforms of free expression is not the answer.

Amnesty International called on the government to reverse the decision immediately. Twitter is used by many Nigerians to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

Anietie Ewang of Human Rights Watch posted on Twitter that the “repressive action” was “a clear attempt to censor dissent”.

Restriction of freedom of expression

The civil rights organisation Access Now criticised the government’s action as a violation of regional and international human rights. Bridget Andere of Access Now called the ban a “direct affront to freedom of expression and the right to access information”.

Twitter itself said it was “very concerned” about the block in Nigeria. Access to a free and open internet is an essential right in a modern society. Efforts will be made to restore access for all those in Nigeria who communicate with the rest of the world via Twitter.

Last year, young Nigerians had repeatedly used the platform to organise protests against police violence. A member of the Nigerian government accused Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey of funding the protesters after he expressed sympathy for them. (dpa / js)