Twitter, Facebook, others must register in Nigeria – Federal Govt.

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As part of its new move to regulate social media, the Federal Government has said Twitter, Facebook and other social media giants doing business in Nigeria must register in the country before being allowed to operate unhindered.

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, yesterday also disclosed that Twitter, which was last week suspended, has called for a ‘high-level’ discussion.

Mohammed made this known in Abuja while briefing journalists after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.

Mohammed said he got the message yesterday morning and repeated the government’s stance that Twitter was suspended because it provided an avenue for people threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria.

He claimed that the owner of Twitter helped to fund the recent #EndSARS protest and is also allowing the leader of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, to use the platform to call for the killing of security operatives. He added that Twitter failed to take down Kanu’s tweets despite repeated requests to do so.

The minister said he has already directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in the country.  NBC as part of implementing the directive has also asked all broadcast stations to suspend usage of their Twitter accounts with immediate effect.

Mohammed listed conditions that must be met even if there is a discussion with Twitter, including that it must now be registered in Nigeria as a business concern. According to the government spokesman, freedom of speech has not been stifled by the suspension of Twitter as he maintained that Nigerians can still use other platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

“We found out that Twitter is actually the platform of choice for a particular separatist leader who resides outside the country and issues directives to its members to attack symbols of government authority, such as the police, military, electoral commission offices, correctional centers, etc. And this is being done willfully and consistently without any consequences from Twitter.

“No country worth its name will tolerate that. And no company, no matter its self-importance will force any nation to accept this. It may interest you to know that most of the OTT and social media platforms operating in Nigeria do not have any office in Nigeria and do not pay taxes to the Nigerian government for the billions they earn here. That is not the best practice globally, and that is why we are insisting that for you to operate in Nigeria you must first be a Nigerian company and be licensed by the broadcasting commission,” he said.

MEANWHILE, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has called on the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and other members of the international community to immediately impose a visa ban on President Muhammadu Buhari and members of his cabinet involved in stifling free speech in Nigeria. The PDP predicated its demand on the violation of the UN International Charter on Human Rights by banning the use of Twitter in Nigeria.

In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP insisted that banning Twitter in Nigeria is a clear violation of Article 19 of the UN Charter as well as section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which guaranteed freedom of expression to all Nigerians.

The party also urged the world bodies to also sanction Mohammed, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, as well as “certain leaders of the APC for their individual roles in the ban imposed on Twitter in addition to associated harassments and threats to Nigerians.”

The party submitted that “the trio of President Buhari, Lai Mohammed, and Abubakar Malami and their agents cannot continue to enjoy diplomatic privileges and rights extended by virtue of their offices in Nigeria, while at the same time blatantly flouting the UN Charter, which Nigeria is a signatory to, as well as the 1999 Constitution (as amended) upon which provisions they hold office.”

HUMAN rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, has urged all Nigerians, especially activists, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and all lovers of democracy, not to participate in any program or event that may be organized by the Buhari administration in commemoration of the June 12, 1993 election, this year.

It would be recalled that the present government had moved the traditional Democracy Day from May 29 of every year to June 12, in honor of the late Chief MKO Abiola, presumed winner of the June 12 presidential election, which was annulled by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida.

In a statement yesterday in Lagos, Adegboruwa said it would be hypocritical of the government to claim to celebrate the ideals of the June 12 mandate, when the same government is in gross violation of the freedom of expression by people it claims to govern, through its illegal ban of Twitter and the unwarranted censorship of all media organizations.

He stated further that June 12 represents total freedom, the free expression of the will of the people, justice, equality, and respect for human rights. The decision of the government to suspend the operations of Twitter and to force media organizations to comply therewith is contrary to the spirit of June 12.

As a mark of protest in rejecting the suspension, Adegboruwa asked all Nigerians of good conscience to isolate the government by boycotting all programs and events that may be slated for the celebration of the June 12 election, until the exit of the present Buhari administration.

ANOTHER human rights lawyer, Chief Malcolm Omirhobo, yesterday, filed a N510 million suit against the Federal Government before the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) community court in Abuja over the Twitter ban. The amount includes N500 million damages for violating his right to free speech through the Twitter ban and the N10 million cost of filing the legal action.

The lawyer is asking the court to declare that there is no law enacted by the defendant’s legislature, which authorized the ban by the defendant, through its agent, Mohammed. The applicant argued that the defendant’s action also violates principles 37 to 42 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (65th Ordinary Session, November 2019); Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance as well as section 39(1) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution.

“A declaration that the act of the defendant, through its agent, the Attorney of the Federation of Nigeria, Abubakar Malami (SAN), who ordered the arrest and prosecution of Nigerians using Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access their Twitter account, violates section 36(8) of the defendant’s Constitution; Article 11 (2) of ICCPR and similar provisions of other international laws, which the defendant is a signatory.

“A declaration that the applicant has the right to use VPN to access his Twitter account and cannot be arrested or criminally prosecuted by the defendant, its agents, servants or privies,” he prayed.

HOWEVER, members of opposition parties in the National Assembly yesterday charged users of Twitter in Nigeria to ignore threats of prosecution by the Federal Government. The caucus of Minority lawmakers, which urged Nigerians to keep using the micro-blogging platform, said users would not be contravening any law in Nigeria or any international statute.

The Minority Caucus said it recognizes the provisions of Articles 19 and 20 of the United Nations Charter on Fundamental Human Rights, which Nigeria is a signatory to, as well as provisions of Sections 39 and 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and noted that by these provisions, no one will be violating any law for using Twitter in Nigeria.

“As lawmakers, the joint caucus is pained by the anguish Nigerians, especially the youths, who find the use of Twitter as a means of livelihood and genuine social interaction, are passing through because the APC-led Federal Government feels slighted that an individual’s post, was deleted by Twitter for ethic violation.”

It noted that the ban on Twitter in Nigeria appeared to be in favor of criminal and terrorist elements, whose activities fester in an environment of suppressed information flow.

In a statement signed by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Minority Leader of the Senate, and Ndudi Elumelu, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, the caucus said it identified with “our students, research-based organizations, media houses, organized civil society, faith-based organizations, community groups among others, whose information-based activities have been violently disrupted by the ban.”