Access Now deplores the government of Nigeria’s suspension of Twitter operations in the country, and demands all services be fully reinstated for all. Authorities implemented the shutdown today, June 5, citing “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
This “indefinite” suspension comes amidst a wave of online oppression following both the #EndSARS protests that were globally trending on Twitter last October and Twitter’s more recent decision to remove President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet threatening genocide on Nigerian citizens in the south. It also builds on longstanding efforts to pass regressive social media regulation, including a government directive to tax so-called over-the-top (OTT) services.
The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has directed that persons found “violating the ban” are to be arrested and prosecuted.
“Shutting down Twitter is already impacting millions of people both inside and outside of Nigeria,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “Blocking a platform that has been vital to exposing government-sponsored police brutality is an attempt to suppress access to information that’s essential for accountability.”
The #KeepItOn coalition called on Nigeria’s government to refrain from this kind of disruption to essential communications platforms in October 2020 as the #EndSARS protests against police brutality in the country first gained international attention. We reaffirm the call in that open letter — signed by more than 50 civil society organizations around the world — and now urge the immediate restoration of access to Twitter and other platforms that may be affected.
The government’s actions violate regional and international human rights standards, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) resolution on the right to freedom of information and expression on the internet in Africa. The resolution spotlights concern over “the emerging practice of State Parties of interrupting or limiting access to telecommunications services such as the Internet, social media and messaging services, increasingly during elections,” and calls on states to “guarantee, respect and protect citizen’s right to freedom of information and expression through access to Internet services.” Blocking access to popular social media sites infringes on these freedoms, while impacting association and assembly as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.
“Directives such as the one issued by the government of Nigeria are a direct affront to the freedom of expression and the right to access information — they should not be allowed to stand,” said Bridget Andere, Africa Policy Fellow at Access Now.
Access Now calls on the Nigerian government to withdraw the Twitter blocking order and ensure any future regulations robustly protect digital rights. We call on telecommunications companies in Nigeria to resist orders to violate human rights, including in court, and disclose such demands. We further urge all stakeholders around the world to denounce these measures, and call on the government of Nigeria to reinstate social media access, and take steps to safeguard their citizens’ freedom of expression and access to information.