Nigeria’s social media clampdown raises human rights concern — Options — The Guardian Nigeria Information – Nigeria and World Information

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo: TWITTER / FMICNIGERIA

Nigeria’s recent crackdown on Twitter operations raises concerns about the country’s commitment to protecting human rights offline and online.

Many of these concerns about Nigeria’s drive to regulate Twitter and other social media platforms are related to citizens’ freedom of expression, guaranteed in Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution.

The deletion on Twitter of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet referring to the experience of the Nigerian civil war – 1967-1969 – in early June sparked the dispute that led to the Nigerian government’s decision to ban Twitter operations in the country indefinitely to proclaim. However, authorities have insisted that the deletion wasn’t the primary reason Twitter was banned in the country.

As over 170 Nigerian civil society organizations stand on trial to challenge the government’s decision, they voice fears that the crackdown on Twitter could be a test to stifle the platforms Nigerians use to express themselves freely – for social ones Advocate, hold the government accountable and mobilize – during the #EndSARS protest against police brutality in October 2020.

The Nigerian government blames Twitter for the violence that followed the protests. However, critics said the government had not carried out its intentions truthfully.

“If the Nigerian government continues down this path, at some point we will have to decide whether to live like slaves in our own land or to rebel directly against government authority – neither is a palatable choice,” Nigerian attorney Ayo Sogunro told The Guardian in one Email comment.

# EndSARS protest against police brutality in October 2020

Sogunro’s comment coincides with that of millions of Nigerians whose voices were stifled after the Twitter ban went into effect 24 hours after the government’s announcement.

Gbenga Sesan, executive director of the Paradigm Initiative, compared the government’s ban on Twitter operations to “back door regulation” of social media that turned Nigeria’s human rights into an “excuse state – where citizens could be forced to act dictatorially endure “earth.

He said the ban was an illegal act which, due to the judicial strike at the time, “could only go so far because our courts were not open”, but “follows the trend of previous actions by this government”.

Nigeria currently has no legal document covering the protection of citizens when exercising their right to freedom of expression on the internet and other digital platforms. The government’s ban on Twitter and the threat of criminal prosecution on Twitter users using virtual private networks (VPNs), Gbenga said, indicates the need for legislation.

“If the bill were already law, Mr. Lai Mohammed (Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture) would likely pay some fines by now,” Sesan said.

President Muhammadu Buhari refused to approve the law on digital rights and freedom in March 2019, which proposed “to ensure the protection of human rights online in order to protect internet users in Nigeria from violating their fundamental freedoms”.

The proposed law is also intended to “ensure the application of human rights for users of digital platforms and / or digital media and in related matters”.

Buhari declined the president’s approval of the bill, saying the bill covered too many technical issues and “does not cover any of them extensively.”

Buhari demanded that “the scope of the bill should be limited to the protection of human rights in the digital environment in order to reduce the challenge of duplication of work and legal conflicts in the future”.

However, Sesan said a revised version of the bill “is still going through parliament” as “the current scenario provides an opportunity to use the bill’s provisions to answer our questions about rights and the fair use of platforms. ”

Lai Mohammed

Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed.

Days after the Twitter ban, the Nigerian government ordered all radio and television stations to “uninstall” their Twitter accounts and prohibited them from using the platform’s content as comments on their broadcasts. Major Nigerian broadcasters have since complied with the order of the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC), a regulator that could withdraw their operating licenses.

While broadcasters have given in to the order, leading newspapers in the country have stepped in and continued to use the social media platform. Many citizens of the country have turned to virtual private network apps to circumvent government measures.

Sogunro says that “such restrictions on all media – including websites – have a deterrent effect on public criticism and opposition to the government and thus contradict the ideals of a democratic society,” in which governments are held in check by public opinion and dissenting voices become.

In July 2018, the UN Human Rights Council passed an existing resolution calling for the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet for citizens of all member countries. As a national member of numerous international trade unions, Nigerians are guaranteed (through these treaties) the freedom to exercise their rights without fear or intimidation, but their rights are under threat, according to Sogunro and Sesan.

Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed denies claims that citizens’ freedom of expression is threatened by the Twitter ban and an order to register social media platforms with the government.

Mohammed insisted that Nigeria will not allow Twitter’s “suspicious role” in the country to “threaten our business existence.” But millions of Nigerians are unlikely to stop tweeting even if the government insists its stance on regulating free expression platforms is not reversed.

Sogunro advised Nigerians and CSOs to campaign for a legislative process to overturn the government’s decision, but says that “if lobbying continues to fail, Nigerians have the last chance to protest or strike until the government overturns their decision.”

He cited loopholes in the Nigerian constitution that leaves citizens vulnerable to illegal arrests, extortion and sometimes extrajudicial killings by security guards to spread their views.

“The Nigerian Constitution gives with one hand and takes with the other,” said Sogunro. “The right to freedom of expression is restricted to the extent that a restriction of the right in a democratic society is reasonably justified in the interests of defense, public security, public order, public morality or public health. For this reason, the Buhari government is trying to make the ban a public safety issue. “

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