According to a statement (threaded on Twitter) from the country’s minister of information and culture, Twitter has been suspended “indefinitely” in Nigeria “for the persistent use of the platform for activities capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” The move comes just days after Twitter removed a threatening tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari, which it claimed violated its “abusive behaviour” policy.
The statement from Minister Lai Mohammed did not mention the deleted tweet, or what form the suspension would take.
The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria.
— Fed Min of Info & Cu (@FMICNigeria) June 4, 2021
Buhari implied in his deleted tweet that he would punish secessionists. “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to remember the destruction and loss of life during the Biafra war,” he wrote. “Those of us who have been in the fields for 30 months and have been through the war will treat them in the language that they understand.” Buhari served as a major general during the Biafra war, which killed over a million people.
Twitter’s Public Policy team issued a statement on Saturday saying it was “deeply concerned” and would work to restore access in Nigeria. According to Reuters, the Twitter website was unavailable on some Nigerian mobile carriers but appeared to be working intermittently on other carriers in Lagos and Abuja, the country’s two largest cities.
We are deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria. Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society.
We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. #KeepitOn
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) June 5, 2021
“Suspending Twitter in Nigeria is just another way of saying that people’s rights are secondary to what the State wants,” tweeted Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International in Nigeria. “This is a dangerous precedent that needs to be exposed for what it is.” Amnesty International urged Nigerian authorities to rescind the suspension, as well as “other plans to gag the media, repress civic space, and undermine Nigerians’ human rights.”
Twitter opened its first office in Africa in Ghana in April, which some in Nigeria saw as a snub. Twitter cited Ghana’s support for free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet as reasons for its decision in its announcement. At the time, Nigeria’s information minister stated that Twitter’s decision not to locate its Africa offices in Nigeria was due to media misrepresentation of the country.
According to an Amnesty International report from 2020, Nigerian authorities “used repressive laws to harass, intimidate, arrest, and detain human rights defenders, activists, media workers, and perceived critics.” Non-state actors have also intimidated, harassed, and beaten journalists.”