The Federal Government of Nigeria summoned the ambassadors of the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Canada, and the European Union (EU) in Nigeria over their comments on the suspension of the microblogging site, Twitter, in Nigeria, citing the persistent use of the platform for activities that were capable of undermining the country’s corporate existence.
This was disclosed on Monday,7th June, 2021 in an invitation to journalists by Kimiebi Ebienfa of the Crisis Monitoring and Public Communications Division of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The invite read: “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.
During the meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama. the US, UK, Canada, Republic of Ireland as well as the European Union government representatives reiterated their stance, stating that they are against the decision of the federal government to suspend Twitter operations in Nigeria. They further said the Twitter ban is a violation of the citizens’ freedom of expression.
It can be recalled that the federal government suspended Twitter in Nigeria on the 5th of June, 2021, after the social media giant deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari’s handle.
The government’s directive on the suspension of Twitter was met with a massive outcry from Nigerians and the international community. Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, in order to clarify the rationale behind the action, held the meeting with the envoys, where he revealed that the decision will only be rescinded if Twitter can commit to ‘responsible’ usage‘.
He said: “The condition would be responsible use of the social media and that really has to be it.” “We are not saying that Twitter is threatening the country or any such thing; why we have taken this measure is to stop them to be used as platforms for destabilization and facilitation of criminality or encouragement of criminalities,” he added.
Speaking on behalf of other envoys, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, told the Minister that the ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government violates the freedom of expression of Nigerians, adding that they understand what government means by responsible use of social media, but citizens’ rights to access information and express themselves must be protected.
She said: “We recognize the official position of the Nigerian government on the responsible use of social media but we remain firm in our position that free access to information is very important and perhaps more important during troubled times,”.
She further explained that they are here as partners and would like to see Nigeria succeed. “It’s very clear that we are Nigeria’s strongest partners on issues of security and we recognize the daunting times in the way of the security challenges that confront Nigeria. While they are daunting, they are not insurmountable and part of the way to surmount them is the partnership of the people you see represented here,” Leonard added.
They called on the government to reverse its position on the ban of Twitter operations in Nigeria.
Onyeama, on his part, assured the envoys that the government has begun talks with Twitter over the suspensions of its operations in Nigeria.
He said, “We know the power of words, and when you have that kind of power to manage and facilitate communication to billions of people; it has to come with responsibility. So, we are taking this measure to see to what extent we can rebalance this media as forces of good and stop them being used as a platform for destabilization and facilitation of criminality.”
The diplomatic missions had, in a joint statement issued earlier, condemned Nigeria’s suspension of Twitter, saying the action does not support the freedom of expression.
In a statement, the diplomatic community had said, “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.”
The question coming from many Nigerians who use social media, is what the definition of ‘responsible use’, as put by the federal government, would be?
As at the time of writing this report, the ban on the use of Twitter in Nigeria is yet to be lifted by the government.
Story: Ene Ken-Yawe