On Friday, 4 June, the Nigerian authorities announced a ban on Twitter in Nigeria and directed Internet Service Providers in Nigeria to block access to Twitter. Media houses also had to deactivate their Twitter accounts. These actions are clear violations of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of the press.
The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria followed the removal of a controversial tweet from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. In that tweet, the President had threatened to deal with those causing trouble in the country using “the language they understand,” referencing the experience of the 1967-1970 civil war where millions of Nigerians got killed.
The Nigerian authorities have since set plans to force social media platforms to register in Nigeria and comply with local regulations before they are licensed to operate.
These actions are the latest symptoms of the alarming backsliding on human rights across Nigeria. Social media platforms have helped Nigerians get information, communicate, hold useful dialogues and conversations, and demand accountability from the Nigerian authorities, particularly during the #EndSARS protests last year.
When in the streets, peaceful protesters are met with violent reprisal from the Nigerian authorities, and now their online voices are being silenced as well.
Legislative bills popularly known as the ‘Hate Speech Bill’ and ‘The Social Media Bill’ both of which provide severe punitive sanctions such as the death penalty in some cases for social media users convicted of “crimes” provided under them are also signs of the regression in the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of the press.