US dismay as mobile networks told to enforce Nigeria Twitter ban

The sudden move to suspend the social media giant's operations 'indefinitely' is likely to dismay international partners and civil society activists


Image : Kola Sulaimon/AFP

The Nigerian government’s decision to ‘indefinitely’ suspend Twitter’s operations and order the country’s mobile networks to block access to the site has prompted an angry statement from the US and other international partners.

The minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension of the social media network in a statement posted on the ministry’s official Twitter account on Friday, citing a “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” By Sunday, citizens were unable to connect to Twitter through MTN and Airtel, two of the country’s largest phone networks.

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

The decision came a day after Twitter removed a post by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari threatening punishment for regional secessionists blamed for attacks on government buildings. Twitter suspended Buhari’s account for 12 hours under its abusive behaviour policy after he referred to his experience in the Nigerian Civil War (also known as the Biafran War) and warned that the government would “treat them (secessionists) in the language they understand.”

The minister said the government had also directed the country’s National Broadcasting Commission to immediately commence the process of licensing all social media operations and over-the-top media services in Nigeria. Mobile networks have been ordered to block access to Twitter and the government says it will prosecute anyone trying to breach the ban.

Domestic civil society organisations say they will take legal measures to protect Twitter access. SERAP, which describes itself as a Nigerian nonprofit, nonpartisan legal and advocacy organisation, said it would contest the decision in court.

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, and followers of the scene abroad.

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