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Civil rights groups lobby Buhari to rescind Twitter suspension

Internet freedom lobby group Paradigm Initiative has submitted an open letter to Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari and his administration requested that the decision to ban Twitter be rescinded.

The lobby group, representing a list of 36 local and international organisations such as Access Now, Africa Internet Rights Alliance, Internet Society Nigeria, Kathleen Ndongmo, Open Internet for Democracy Fellow (Member, Netrights Africa Coalition and the Africa Digital Rights Network - ADRN) and Witness Africa, asked that the government lift the suspension enforced on 4 June 2021.

In early June ITWeb Africa reported that the Nigerian government indefinitely suspended Twitter’s activities in the country days after the social network removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari which threatened to punish regional secessionists.

In the post (1 June 2021), Buhari referred to the 1967 to 1970 Nigerian civil war and to treating those misbehaving today “in the language they understand.”

Soon after the suspension was announced, Paradigm Initiative and six foreign missions expressed concern over the move and said it was tantamount to the abuse of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.

“The directive by the Nigerian government is at its core, an abuse of the rights of Nigerians not just to freedom of expression. But many other rights guaranteed in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” reads a statement released by Paradigm Initiative.

An excerpt from the latest open correspondence to authorities reads: “Twitter, just like many other digital and social media platforms, has become a space for Nigerians to communicate, seek and disseminate information, engage in public debates and legitimate businesses. Like many other governments across the globe, the Nigerian government has leveraged social media platforms to issue critical public information. A recent demonstration of this is the use of Twitter by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to issue information related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently the NCDC Twitter account has a following of 1.1 million, This is an acknowledgement of the importance of social media in reaching a significant proportion of the Nigerian population.”

The lobbyists argue that according to research by Netblocks, the Nigerian economy loses at least ₦2,177,089,051.00 (US$6,014,390.00) each day, since the indefinite suspension was announced.

The correspondence continues: “… first, there is currently no clear and sufficiently precise law in Nigeria that provides for such action by the Nigerian government. Second, the Nigerian government is yet to demonstrate how the suspension protects the rights of others. Third, the Nigerian government is yet to show that it has used the ‘least intrusive means’ of addressing the harm purported caused before the suspension. Fourth, the Nigerian government has failed to demonstrate that its actions to suspend Twitter’s operations was not excessive and over-reaching.”

They want the Nigerian government to restore access to Twitter for all Nigerians; ensure that the internet including social media platforms like Twitter are open, free, and accessible; engage all stakeholders including the civil society, academics, human rights institutions, the private sector on the best approach to social media regulation and put measurable and specific processes in place to promote, protect and fulfill all human rights online and offline.

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