No resolution as Nigeria Twitter dispute drags

Reconciliation talks led by a team of President Muhammadu Buhari’s senior ministers are yet to achieve a breakthrough with the social media giant.

Nigeria and Twitter are yet to come to an agreement to allow the social media giant to continue operations in the country following an ‘indefinite’ ban that sparked international condemnation.

Last week, the government launched talks with Twitter via a reconciliation team led by President Muhammadu Buhari’s senior ministers, including minister of information and culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed. But there has yet to be a breakthrough, and on 1 July the House of Representatives voted against the lifting of the ban after a motion put forward by concerned members.

Mohammed announced the suspension of the social media network in early June, citing a “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”. The decision came a day after Twitter removed a post by President Buhari threatening punishment for regional secessionists blamed for attacks on government buildings. 

The government has since ordered mobile internet providers, including MTN and Airtel, to bar access to Twitter, and threatened users with prosecution. 

Legal pressure on Nigeria

Since the decision, Nigeria has come under sustained international pressure to end the ban. In late June, a regional court restrained the government from prosecuting citizens or media outlets for using Twitter. The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States ordered the government and its agents “to refrain from imposing sanction on any media house or harassing, intimidating, arresting and prosecuting” Nigerians using the platform. 

Such action would “amount to a violation of a fundamental human right” according to the ruling delivered by judge rapporteur Justice Keikura Bangura. The court refrained from ordering Nigeria to reverse the ban pending a conclusion of the suit. 

The application to overturn the ban has been made by NGOs and journalists, including SERAP, which describes itself as a Nigerian nonprofit, nonpartisan legal and advocacy organisation. 

“The ECOWAS court ruling today means that NO one would be sanctioned, harassed, intimidated, arrested or prosecuted for using Twitter in Nigeria. The ruling also means that tech companies must immediately restore people’s access to Twitter as a matter of human right,” SERAP wrote in a statement on Twitter. 

The ban also prompted a joint statement by the diplomatic missions of major international partners including the US, UK and European Union. 

“We strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline. Banning systems of expression is not the answer.” 

The decision also irked the country’s network of tech entrepreneurs, many of whom blamed Nigeria’s heavy-handed tech regulation when Twitter announced that it had chosen Ghana to host its regional HQ in April.