Written by: Kayode Oyero
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama
The Federal Government has summoned the envoys of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union in Nigeria over their recent comments on the suspension of microblogging site Twitter in the West African Country. This was contained in an invitation to pressmen issued on Monday morning by Kimiebi Ebienfa of the Crisis Monitoring and Public Communications Division of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I am directed to inform that following the recent ban on Twitter by the Federal Government and Press Statement issued by some Heads of Diplomatic Missions Accredited to Nigeria on the subject matter, the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency, Geoffrey Onyeama has invited the affected Ambassadors to a meeting today at 12 noon. “The venue is Minister’s Conference Room, 8th Floor. “You are hereby invited to cover the meeting. Thanks for your usual cooperation,” the invite read.
The PUNCH had earlier reported that in a joint statement on Saturday, Canada, EU, UK, US, and the Republic of Ireland said banning systems of expression is not the way forward. The statement was titled, ‘Joint Statement From The Diplomatic Missions Of Canada, The European Union (Delegation To Nigeria), The Republic Of Ireland, The United Kingdom And The United States Of America’. It read, “The diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America convey our disappointment over the Government of Nigeria’s announcement suspending #Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media. “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. These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less, communication to accompany the concerted efforts of Nigeria’s citizens in fulsome dialogue toward unity, peace, and prosperity. “As Nigeria’s partners, we stand ready to assist in achieving these goals.”
Twitter had deleted a controversial civil war post by the Nigerian President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). Consequently, the Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension of Twitter, citing the “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
Though mobile operators have blocked their customers in the country from using Twitter, many Nigerians have switched to the use of Virtual Private Networks to bypass the blockage. Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, had also ordered the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation to prosecute offenders contravening the government’s Twitter ban.
Nigeria, with over 200 million people, had about 33 million active social media users as of January 2021. WhatsApp is the most popular platform used in the country, with over 90 million users according to Statista. Also according to Statista, about 61.4 percent of Nigerian social media users use Twitter, 86.2 percent use Facebook, 81.6 percent use YouTube, 73.1 percent use Instagram, and 67.2 percent use Facebook Messenger.