By Jean-Pierre Afadhali
Nigeria has said it would lift the ban on Twitter in a ‘few days’ more than three months after the West African country blocked the social media platform.
The country’s Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said on Wednesday that the government would soon lift the ban without giving a specific time. This is the second time in recent months Nigeria’s official stated the country would unblock the platform that is used by many to express themselves on the country’s affairs and that has promoted freedom of expression.
“I think even Twitter itself two days ago gave what I will call a progress report on our talks with them, and I think if I want to quote them rightly it has been productive and quite respectful.” Mr. Mohammed was quoted as saying on Wednesday after a cabinet meeting.
Authorities banned Twitter on June 4, a move that angered many Nigerians in the most populous country in Africa, with a huge presence on the microblogging platform. The decision followed the removal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s controversial tweet the platform said it violated its rules that prohibit content that incite or threaten violence.
In that tweet, the President had threatened to deal with those causingtrouble in the country using “the language they understand,”. Mr. Buhari was referring to the experience of the 1967-1970 civil war where millions of Nigerians got killed
The Federal Government accused the global social media giant of threatening what it termed “the country’s corporate existence”.
According to media reports, Mr. Mohammed further said while answering questions from State House journalists that Nigerian authorities and Twitter officials had to “dot the I’s and cross the T’s… it’s just going to be very, very soon, just take my word for that,” before reaching a final agreement.
The block of access to Twitter has hindered Nigerian businesses and has been widely condemned for undermining freedom of expression. Various local and international human rights criticized the decision saying it denied Nigerian people access to information, freedom of expression and press freedom.
After blocking Twitter, the country’s communication authorities banned local media houses from using the microblogging website saying it was “unpatriotic” amid increasing use of VPN, an online tool that allows users to bypass the blockage of online platforms.
Press freedom advocates and Human Rights Organizations condemned the directive saying it was illegal and an attack on press freedom, however local media reported that major media outlets quit Twitter to comply with the order.
“On Friday, 4 June, the Nigerian authorities announced a ban on Twitter in Nigeria and directed Internet Service Providers in Nigeria to block access to Twitter. Media houses also had to deactivate their Twitter accounts. These actions are clear violations of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of the press.” Stated Amnesty International in a recent call of action against the ban on Twitter.
Following the ban on twitter Nigeria’s Federal Government ordered social media companies to register with local authorities before they can operate, a rare regulation around the world that could be seen as a measure to control the powerful platforms that allow many to express themselves freely.
“These actions are the latest symptoms of the alarming backsliding on human rights across Nigeria. Social media platforms have helped Nigerians get information, communicate, hold useful dialogues and conversations, and demand accountability from the Nigerian authorities, particularly during the #EndSARS protests last year.” said Amnesty International in its recent call to action.
Many Nigerians and civic group as well as international community condemned the ban on Twitter, a decision the federal government vehemently defended.
Some analysts said the ban on Twitter could have wider implication on the country’s economy in terms of investments into tech sector. The social media giant has set up its Africa headquarters in Accra, Ghana, a decision some observers said it did not please Nigeria, the biggest economy in Africa.
In a recent brief titled ‘Nigeria’s Twitter Ban is Misplaced Priority’ published by Africa Growth Institute, a US-based research institute that studies Africa’s development challenges, authors stated that the move to ban Twitter has led to “damage” of Nigeria’s image on the World stage as its key diplomatic and economic allies like EU and US condemned the ban.
“The ban can also harm Nigeria’s growth as foreign investors pivot business and funding to other African countries, jeopardizing Nigeria’s role as the unofficial tech hub of Africa,” the brief read.