According to a statement (threaded on Twitter) from Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, Twitter has been suspended “indefinitely” in the country “for the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” The move comes only days after Twitter removed a threatening remark from President Muhammadu Buhari, citing a violation of its “abusive behavior” policy.
On Saturday, Nigeria’s attorney general’s office and ministry of justice announced that anyone attempting to circumvent the ban would be arrested and prosecuted, and directed government agencies to work with prosecutors “to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.”
Earlier in the day, Nigerian telecommunication operators said they had followed a government directive to ban Twitter service, two days after the social media platform deleted a message from President Muhammadu Buhari’s account for breaking its rules.
Buhari implied that secessionists will be punished in a now-deleted tweet. “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Biafra war,” he wrote. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.” Buhari served as a major general in the Biafra war, which cost the lives of over a million people.
Twitter stated that the action was taken because the tweet violated the site’s anti-abusive behavior policy. The account was also suspended for 12 hours by the US technology giant.
The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) stated that the government regulator had given its members specific instructions to restrict access. ALTON members are in charge of the mobile networks via which the vast majority of Nigerians use Twitter.
Twitter can still be accessed via fixed broadband, which is relatively more expensive and used by a small percentage of Nigerians. It’s unclear whether access via this route will be restricted as well. Some Nigerian users were able to get around the block by using a virtual private network (VPN).
In a statement released on Saturday, Twitter’s Public Policy team expressed its “deep concern” and stated that it will strive to restore service in Nigeria. According to Reuters, Twitter’s website was unavailable on several Nigerian mobile carriers on Saturday, but appeared to be working intermittently on other carriers in Lagos and Abuja, the country’s two largest cities.
“Suspending Twitter in Nigeria is just one more way of stating that people’s rights do not matter just what the State wants,” Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International in Nigeria tweeted. “This is a dangerous precedent and must be called out for what it is.”
Twitter opened its first office in Africa in Ghana in April, which some Nigerians saw as a snub. Twitter justified its decision by citing Ghana’s support for free speech, online freedom, and the open Internet in its announcement.
According to an Amnesty International report from 2020, Nigerian authorities “used repressive laws to harass, intimidate, arrest and detain human rights defenders, activists, media workers and perceived critics. Non-state actors also subjected journalists to intimidation, harassment and beatings.”