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Monday, June 14, 2021

Twitter’s suspension: Nigeria, a nation in technology dilemma - ITREALMS

Features@ITREALMS ... making leadership SENSE with digital news!

Recent ban of Twitter by the Federal Government is an indication how responsible leadership should not react to powerful ‘communications’ technology tool in an environment dare need of peace building, writes REMMY NWEKE.

General Buhari vs Twitter:
Dateline was Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) by 5:43pm on June 1, 2021, a Tweep with the Twitter account Muhammadu Buhari on his handle @MBuhari shared thus: “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
A tweep is a person who uses the Twitter online message services to send and receive tweets. Just as 
ITREALMS recalls that Twitter is an American microblogging and social networking service company, upon which users post and interact with messages known as "tweets". Registered users can post, like, and retweet tweets as well as direct message (DM), but unregistered users can only read them. Twitter was founded on March 21, 2006 at San Francisco, California, United States of America and has currently Mr. Jack Dorsey as the chief executive officer since 30 September 2015.

Nigerian Tweeps mobilized:
The General Buhari’s tweet above set the basis for some Nigerian Tweeps to react by mobilizing in unison via asking Twitter to delete his obvious inciting Tweet, which was heeded to barely 24 hours letter. But then again as the news of the deletion broke Tweeps were salivating for score a 1-0 goal against the Federal Government militarization of the nation’s polity, the General Buhari’s presidency came up with indefinite suspension of Twitter on Twitter; which came through a tweet from the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture with Twitter handle @FMICNigeria and it read: “Press Release:- FG Suspends @Twitter operations in Nigeria” by 4:53pm on Friday, June 4, 2021.

FG’s suspension of Twitter in Nigeria:
According the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Federal Government of Nigeria has suspended Twitter in the country, indefinitely. "The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter in Nigeria," he said, citing alleged persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria's corporate existence.

He also said FG directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to commence the process of licensing all Over-The-Top (OTT) media services and social media operations in Nigeria.

Twitter’s U-turn:
Industry watchers told ITREALMS that the suspension is not unconnected with the recent deletion of General Buhari's tweet which some especially digital rights advocates classified as ‘hate speech on Ndigbo,’ and was considered as genocidal war on the Igbos.

A few hours later when the hit seems to be on, Twitter in a face-saving statement, proclaimed that General Buhari did not break its guidelines. "We're writing to let you know that, after examining the available information, we didn't detect a breach of our rules in the content you reported. We appreciate that you let us know that happened. We encourage you to call out again in the future if you identify any possible violations."

This came as most Tweeps were advancing their agitation for the @MBuhari handle on Twitter to be suspended, thereby leaving Tweeps at a cross road.

NCC orders telcos, 'suspend access to Twitter’:
By midnight of Friday, June 5, 2021, the telecommunication operators in the country have confirmed receipt of an order from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to effect the suspension command on Twitter including citizens’ access.

Confirming this to 
ITREALMS, the operators under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) said they have received “order to suspend access to Twitter.” A press statement available to ITREALMS early Saturday morning, ALTON ‘s chairman and executive secretary, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo and Mr. Gbolahun Awonuga respectively affirmed the industry regulator has instructed telcos to formally suspend access to Twitter.

“ALTON wishes to confirm that our members have received formal instructions from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the industry regulator to suspend access to Twitter,” they said, pointing out that it has conducted a robust assessment of the request in accordance with internationally accepted principles and based on national interest provisions in the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, and within the licence terms under which the industry operates has to comply.

ALTON says people’s right offline, must be protected online:
“… Our members have acted in compliance with the directives of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the industry regulator,” ALTON said, assuring that they will continue to engage all the relevant authorities and stakeholders and will act as may be further directed by the NCC.

However, ALTON reiterated commitment to support the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in upholding the rights of citizens, and promptly noted that as an industry, they endorse the position of the United Nations that the rights held by people offline must also be protected online.

“These include respecting and protecting the rights of all people to communicate, to share information freely and responsibly, and to enjoy privacy and security regarding their data and their use of digital communications,” ALTON said.

Presidency justifies Twitter's suspension:
Later on Saturday, June 5, 2021, the Presidency of General Buhari on second thought after several batches from various governors including Seyi Makinde of Oyo and Dr. John Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti States recently as well as former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki among others, came up on what industry watchers saw as after-thought in efforts to justify Twitter suspension.

As stated by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in a ‘Presidential Statement on Twitter Suspension in Nigeria’ available to 
ITREALMS, denied allegations that the temporary suspension of Twitter was just a response to the removal of the President’s post but litany of accumulated ‘Twitter sins.’

“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.

“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.”

Tech companies must be responsible:
Major tech companies, the presidency said, must be alive to their responsibilities, arguing that they cannot be allowed to continue to allegedly 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. A terrorist organisation (IPOB – ‘Indigenous People of Biafra’) 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. 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,” the presidency claimed.

…Then enters Malami’s prosecution plan on Tweeps:
As the Twitter ban saga gains momentum and before the access suspension order by NCC could die down, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, same Saturday, June 5, 2021, ordered the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation to begin immediate prosecution of those who violated the Federal Government’s instruction suspending Twitter operations in Nigeria.

Confirming this, Malami’s spokesman, Umar Gwandu, in a press statement entitled, “Twitter ban: Malami orders prosecution of offenders” said the Federal Government had on Friday ordered all internet service providers to suspend Twitter. However, many Nigerians have been using the Virtual Private Networks to circumvent the ban.

The press statement from the AGF read in part: “Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has directed the immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.

“Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation at the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria.

“Malami directed the DPPF to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.”

Is Presidency acting responsibly?
From the above presidential statement, industry watchers were of the opinion that FG tends to shift responsibility by wanting firms to “do what I say and not what I do.” They opined that FG, obviously dodged the fact that in the presidential controversial tweet, there was no mention of IPOB but the South-East region, which definitely have different connotations, even as the declaration that “The tweet was not a threat, but a statement of fact” is another irresponsible statement from the presidency.

In addition, they argued that as matter of fact, IPOB founded in 2012; did not exist in the era of civil war, which lasted between 1967 and 1970, just as they were non-violent separatist agitators and exhibited unarmed posture until it was sordidly proscribed in 2017, as a terrorist other than campaigners for an independent state of Biafra by the Federal Government under General Buhari’s first term administration.

IPOB’s main objective, as gathered by 
ITREALMS via online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, “is to restore an independent state of Biafra in the South East of Nigeria through an independence referendum.”

These and many more were the postulated reasons by industry watchers on why IPOB may have decided to carry arms, and created the Eastern Security Network (ESN), coupled with the fact that the same Federal Government seems comfortable with marauding Fulani herders carrying AK47 across the crannies of the South-Eastern region where the civil war actually took place following the pogrom in the North and purported Igbo coup of 1966; where some prominent Northerners were killed and later an accord was reached in Aburi-Ghana, but was never implemented by the General Yakubu Gowon-led Military Government, despite the resolution for triple ‘Rs’ namely “Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation.”

Even the Malami interjection has been severally described as provocative on its own and unwarranted in a democratic government, thereby putting a question mark if the Federal Government has been responsible in its own actions?

Conclusion:
The Federal Government is obviously biased in its dealings with the South East, IPOB and invariably Twitter, according to some industry watchers as the ban came through the backdoor to get at IPOB and Nigerians at large and more specifically the South-East where the current General Buhari’s administration purportedly got only 5 per cent votes during the last election. Hiding under Twitter ban to get at South Easterners is like what has been going on in the Security Council without any Easterner for the past six years.

And like the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor, once said that the Easterners (Ndigbo) have a certain quality of resilience naturally endowed to them amongst all the major ethnic groups in Nigeria. This much, he said, cannot be taken away from them, rather, the Nigerian state needs to leverage this understanding by tapping on Igbo ideology to make Nigeria great again like other world class countries including the United States of America (USA) and evident in President Joe Biden appointments.

For the umpteenth times, Nigerians of notables need to speak up no matter the political divide and do not need to be Ndigbo, because what caused the civil war of 1967 have not been abated, rather the symptom has continued to grow in sizes like cancer, more so with some level of government backings when juxtaposed with ability of FG to control Fulani herders with AK47 and flourishing business of kidnapping in the North-East without sufficient military actions; whereas soldiers wearing python dancing kits are in South East killing the youths in the name of fighting IPOB instead of referendum, because the killings are uncalled for.

All these, are needless squabbles that an independence referendum could have solved, especially now that even tweets by Nnamdi Kalu @MaziNnamdiKanu, were found to be provocative and got deleted by Twitter too.

The implication of Twitter ban will definitely have its effect on the economy, the youth who dwell on it as influencer to make ends-meet and indeed the political space; recalling that the All Progressive Congress (APC) Federal Government of General Buhari reportedly came to power riding on social media.

A stitch in time saves nine!

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