The Institute for Media and Society, IMS, has observed with great concern, the suspension imposed on Twitter, the micro blogging and social networking platform. It is a bad decision and the government should discontinue its present course of action.
It is recalled that on June 4, 2021, the federal government announced an indefinite suspension of the operations of Twitter, citing alleged use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence. This was followed by government’s instruction to telecom companies to deactivate twitter on their networks, which meant denial of citizen’s access to the social media platform. On June 7, 2021, a similar directive to broadcast media (radio and television stations) asked them to “de-install twitter handles and desist from using twitter as a source (UGC) of information gathering for news and programmes presentation especially phone-in”.
The initial decision and the course of action pursued so far by the government amount to a violation of the citizens’ freedom of expression rights under national and international law.
Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental right. It states that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) makes a similar provision in Article 19, saying that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; that this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or print in the form of art orthrough any other medium of his choice.”
The decision to deny citizens access to a communication platform in such an arbitrary manner runs in contravention of these instruments and shows government’s disregard for its commitment to the protection of citizens’ rights under local and international laws.
When viewed in the context of previous failed attempts to regulate social media platforms and the current extension of directives to broadcast media houses to de-install twitter handles, a strong impression is created that a script of a bigger agenda against freedom of expression (including media freedom) is gradually unfolding. This is very unfortunate.
The government’s action against Twitter is already taking its toll on businesses across sectors of the economy. Large numbers of citizens and organisations which use this social media platform are now effectively hindered from conducting their lawful activities.
Recovering from the devastating effects of COVID-19 has been very difficult and slow for businesses in Nigeria. The present action of government could aggravate the challenging conditions of citizens, leading to massive loss of means of livelihood and exacerbate the worsening security situation in the country.
The federal government should discontinue the present course of action against Twitter and seek better ways of engaging communication platforms.