Nigeria vs Twitter: Buhari under fire as lawyers condemn social media censorship

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Legal practitioners have decried the ongoing social media censorship in Nigeria amid President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s action against Twitter.

The federal government sanctioned the microblogging site after the President’s tweet was deleted when many users reported it.

Information Minister, Lai Mohammed said it was high time Facebook, Instagram and Twitter registered in Nigeria.

The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has been directed to license all social media operations, while television and radio stations are barred from tweeting.

But lawyers in the country are infuriated by the events, with some accusing Buhari of dragging the entire nation into an individual altercation with the Jack Dorsey-led company.

Festus Ogun, a human rights activist told TRIBUNEPOINT WEEKLY he agrees with other stakeholders that social media should be regulated to prevent abuse.

The legal analyst, however, noted that Nigeria’s social media space is already regulated with laws like the Cybercrime Act.

The sudden interest to regulate Over the Top (OTT) services, Ogun noted, is suspicious, malicious and a desperate attempt to gag the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech and access to information.

“I see it as a backdoor implementation of the widely rejected Social Media Bill. Why is the whole conversation surrounding OTT regulations and licences coming at a time the President’s indecent tweet was justly deleted?

“It tells a lot about the proverbial witch that cried at night and the child’s death in the morning! Clearly, the authorities are only hiding under the pretext of ‘regulation’ to strangulate the voice and liberty of the Nigerian people.

“The right to internet and access to digital information are human rights that cannot be arbitrarily derogated without lawful justification. The Buhari regime’s growing lust for despotism is enough yardstick to reject any dangerous OTT regulations.

“The real trouble with Nigeria is leadership, not social media. Given that the internet space seems to be the only platform patriotic Nigerians ventilate their grievances, the planned OTT regulation appears like a cynical attempt to cover up the failure of our rulers by clamping down on the right to social media.

“The current leadership of our country lacks the legal, constitutional and moral rights to make delicate policies that are capable of endangering basic human rights and democratic liberties.”

Ogun added that a serious government would focus more on security, poverty, job creation, infrastructure and getting the economy out of the woods, instead of trying to gag the media through the “undemocratic policies”.

“We will resist the policy by all forces permissible under our laws”, the Convener of the Civil Coalition for Constitutional Governance added.

In a statement, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa urged activists, civil society organisations and all lovers of democracy, to boycott any events organized by the Buhari administration in commemoration of the June 12.

He said it will be hypocritical of the government to claim to celebrate the ideals of the date, when the same is in gross violation of people’s freedom of expression.

Adegboruwa condemned the “illegal ban of Twitter and the unwarranted censorship of all media organisations”.

The activist stressed that June 12 represents total freedom, the free expression of the will of the people, justice, equality and respect for human rights.

“The decision of the government to suspend the operations of Twitter and to force media organisations to comply therewith, are contrary to the spirit of June 12.”

“We cannot continue to live in a nation where the rights of citizens depend on the personal idiosyncrasies of those in power; where the institutions of State are deployed whimsically to settle personal grievances, as President Buhari is doing in respect of his personal dispute with Twitter”, he said.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and scores of citizens have dragged the Buhari administration to the ECOWAS Court.

The suit, filed by Femi Falana (SAN), is demanding a dismissal of the threat to arrest Twitter users, an end to the repression of human rights, freedom of speech, media freedom, among others.

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