The United States (U.S.) on Thursday faulted the suspension of social media giant Twitter by the Federal Government.
It described the action as undue interference by the government to restrict the people’s views on issues.
Information, Culture and Tourism Minister Lai Mohammed said on Wednesday that Twitter must register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and obtain a licence from the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) as parts of the conditions to operate in the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday declined to answer a question on when the suspension will be lifted to enable users have access to the micro-blogging platform.
Speaking in a chat on Arise TV, the President said: “I will keep that to myself.”
But in statement yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as undemocratic restricting the use of social media.
This statement, titled: “Nigeria’s Twitter Suspension” was signed by Blinken’s spokesman Ned Price.
It reads: “The United States is likewise concerned that the Nigerian National Broadcasting Commission ordered all television and radio broadcasters to cease using Twitter.
“Unduly restricting the ability of Nigerians to report, gather and disseminate opinions and information has no place in a democracy. Freedom of expression and access to information both online and offline are foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies.
We support Nigeria as it works towards unity, peace, and prosperity. As its partner, we call on the government to respect its citizens’ right to freedom of expression by reversing this suspension.”
The Nigerian government wielding the big stick on Twitter on June 4. It cited persistent use of its platform for activities that could undermine corporate existence.
Mohammed, however, said Twitter had opened talks with the Federal Government, insisting that the sovereignty of Nigeria will not be compromised.
The minister said all other Over-The-Top (OTT) service providers must run as real businesses in Nigeria by paying their taxes.
Speaking on the ‘sins’ of Twitter that led to its suspension, he said the platform provided an avenue for people that are threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria.
According to him, the owner of Twitter helped to fund last year’s #EndSARS protest while allowing the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, to use the platform to call for the killing of policemen.
He said Twitter failed to take down Kanu’s tweets despite repeated requests to do so.
The government spokesman said freedom of speech had not been stifled by the suspension of Twitter, because Nigerians could still use other platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
He also denied that the suspension was not effective, arguing that Twitter is losing money as a result of the action.
On Twitter’s overtures for talks, he said “yes, it is true. Only this morning (yesterday), I got communicated that yes, they are now ready to hold senior level discussions with us. Just now. I can confirm that, I just confirmed with my colleague now. We just got the information”.
He promised that the government would hold talks with the firm.
“We will. Our conditions are already laid out: one, to do business in Nigeria, they must register as Nigerian companies; two, you must be licensed. Three, they will have to refrain from using the platform for activities that are inimical to the growth of Nigeria, to the corporate existence of Nigeria. From there, any other issue will come in. We already talked to them.
He also took time to explain what led to the ban on the operations of Twitter, by debunking claims of it being in reaction to the removal of some of President Buhari’s tweets, relating to the Nigerian Civil War.
“As you are aware, last Friday the federal government suspended Twitter operations in Nigeria indefinitely, and the reason we gave was because of the persistent use of the Twitter platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
”On Friday, also the government directed the regulatory body, the National Broadcasting commission, to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT, Over The Top social media operations in Nigeria.
”And I believe that we’ve done that I think by today, that advert is out asking that all OTT, and social media coverage operating in Nigeria should apply for registration and licensing.
”I want to repeat that it is because Twitter has consistently made its platform available to those who are threatening Nigeria’s corporate existence. That is the reason for suspending their operations in Nigeria.
”We have found out that Twitter is the platform of choice for a particular separatist leader who resides outside the country and issues directives to its members to attack symbols of government authority, such as the police, the military, the Electoral Commission offices, correctional centres, etc. And this is being done willfully and consistently without any consequences from Twitter.