The presidency has justified what it called a temporary suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria, noting that it is part of efforts to prevent the violent consequences usually linked to the spread of fake news and misinformation.
Lai Mohammed, minister of information, had announced the “indefinite” suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria on Friday, sparking angry reactions.
The suspension had come after Twitter deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari in which he made reference to Biafra war, while vowing to treat those destroying public facilities in the language they understand.
However, in a statement on Saturday, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, said the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is not only because Buhari’s post was deleted, even as he hinted that the ban was temporary.
“The temporary suspension of Twitter is not just a response to the removal of the President’s post. There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences. All the while, the company has escaped accountability,” the statement said.
“Nevertheless, the removal of President Buhari’s tweet was disappointing. The censoring seemed based on a misunderstanding of the challenges Nigeria faces today.
“The President in his address at the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA in 2019 said “the world was shocked and startled by the massacre in New Zealand by a lone gunman taking the lives of 50 worshippers. This and similar crimes which have been fueled by social media networks risk seeping into the fabric of an emerging digital culture.
“Major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities. They cannot be allowed to continue to facilitate the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages capable of inciting whole communities against each other, leading to loss of many lives. This could tear some countries apart.
“President Buhari has therefore been warning against social media’s disruptive and divisive influences and the government’s action is not a knee-jerk reaction to Twitter’s preposterous deletion of his tweet which should have been read in full. The tweet was not a threat, but a statement of fact.”
He explained what Buhari meant by the post on the Civil War experience, adding that with the current security challenges, the federal government needs to take measures to prevent escalation of tensions.
“A terrorist organisation (IPOB) poses a significant threat to the safety and security of Nigerian citizens. When the President said that they will be treated “in a language they understand,” he merely reiterated that their force shall be met with force. It is a basic principle of security services response world over,” Shehu said.
“This is not promotion of hate, but a pledge to uphold citizens’ right to freedom from harm. The government cannot be expected to capitulate to terrorists.
“IPOB is proscribed under Nigerian law. Its members murder innocent Nigerians. They kill policemen and set government property on fire. Now, they have amassed a substantial stockpile of weapons and bombs across the country.
“Twitter does not seem to appreciate the national trauma of our country’s civil war. This government shall not allow a recurrence of that tragedy.”