Nigerian legal advocacy group SERAP has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to remove all restrictions on Twitter after the government said that the US social media giant will be unbanned only if specific conditions are met.
Nigeria indefinitely suspended Twitter’s operations and ordered the country’s mobile networks to block access to the site in June, citing a “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
The decision came shortly after the platform removed one of Buhari’s tweets which it said was in contravention of its rules. Amid ongoing talks with the company, Buhari last week said that he had ordered the four-month long ban to be lifted on condition that the social-media platform is used for “business and positive engagements.”
The government’s conditional approach has prompted an angry response from SERAP, an advocacy group involved in legal action against the ban.
“We reject ‘conditional’ lifting of ban on Twitter in Nigeria by the Buhari administration. President Buhari must immediately and unconditionally lift the illegal suspension of Twitter, and allow Nigerians to freely exercise their right to freedom of expression,” the group tweeted.
Nigerian media report that other demands made by the government include assurances around national security and cohesion, registration, physical presence and representation, fair taxation, dispute resolution and local content. In August, information minister Lai Mohammed said that Twitter had agreed to seven of the government’s ten demands but said that sticking points included the establishment of a local office, taxes and the regulation of tweets. In April, Twitter chose Ghana over Nigeria as host of its regional HQ, a move that angered some Nigerians.
In late June, 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. SERAP say that the government’s conditional unbanning could undermine the ongoing legal case in the Court of Justice.
“The conditions imposed on Twitter while the ECOWAS case is pending constitute an interference with the right of SERAP and other plaintiffs to fairly and effectively pursue a judicial challenge to the decision by his government to suspend Twitter in Nigeria. The conditions make a mockery of the case pending before the ECOWAS court, and create a risk that the course of justice will be seriously impeded or prejudiced in this case.”