The Nigerian government says it has “indefinitely suspended” Twitter’s operations in the country, the Ministry of Information and Culture announced in a statement on Friday.
“The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria,” it read.
The statement, which was posted on the ministry’s official Twitter handle on Friday evening, accused the American social media company of allowing its platform to be used “for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
Some pointed out the irony of announcing the ban on Twitter, with one person replying: “You’re using Twitter to suspend Twitter? Are you not mad?”
The suspension comes two days after Twitter deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that was widely perceived as offensive.
In that tweet on Tuesday, the Nigerian leader threatened to deal with people in the country’s southeast, who he blames for the recurring attacks on public infrastructure in the region.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” Buhari wrote in the now-deleted tweet, referring to the brutal two-year Nigeria-Biafra war, which killed an estimated one to three million people, mostly from the Igbo tribe in the eastern part of the country between 1967-1970.
The tweet was deleted Wednesday after many Nigerians flagged it to Twitter and the platform said it had violated its policy on abusive behavior.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed criticized Twitter’s action and accused the social media giant of “double standards.”
Mohammed also questioned Twitter’s motives in Nigeria, saying, “the mission of Twitter in Nigeria is very very suspect…” at a news conference on Wednesday after Buhari’s tweet was deleted.
Twitter said in a statement that it is “deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria.”
“Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society. We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world,” it said in a statement.
Twitter’s site blocked
From the early hours of Saturday, Twitter’s site was inaccessible for many Nigerians. It was a swift implementation of the government ban which took effect just hours after the policy was announced.
Many Nigerians have condemned the ban, with the country’s main opposition party describing the move as “unwarranted” and “pushing Nigerians to the wall.”
More than 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, according to NOI polls, and issues of public concern are frequently debated on the app.
It was a popular medium for organizing last year’s anti-police brutality End Sars protests, and Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder donated to the cause, which drew the government’s ire.
“Our party notes that Mr. Lai Mohammed, in his statement, failed to cite an example of where Nigerians used @Twitter as a platform to promote acts that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence as he claimed,” the opposition Peoples Democratic Party said in a statement.
The Nigerian Bar Association has threatened to take legal action against the Nigerian government if the Twitter ban is not “immediately reversed.”
The President of the association, Olumide Akpata, stated Twitter’s suspension impedes “the right of Nigerians to freely express their constitutionally guaranteed opinions through that medium.”
A Lagos-based civil society group, SERAP, has also vowed to drag the Nigerian government to court over the ban.
“…We’re suing Nigerian authorities over their ILLEGAL indefinite suspension… @NigeriaGov, we’ll see you in court.”
The move has also attracted international condemnation. Amnesty International, the Embassy of Sweden in Nigeria, as well as the British and Canadian missions in the country have spoken up against Twitter’s suspension by Nigerian authorities, all highlighted the importance of freedom of speech for Nigerians.
‘Thank God For VPN’
A Twitter trend “Thank God For VPN” has gone viral on the app as many Nigerians celebrate their ability to circumvent the Twitter ban, through the use of a virtual private network (VPN).
Users who are logged into a secured VPN server can access public networks while their internet connection remains anonymous and encrypted.
A Nigerian Twitter user, Obasipee, wrote: “I just woke up this morning, I noticed my tweets can’t go, I sharply on my VPN.. finally I’m tweeting live from Atlanta.. Thank God For VPN.”
Buhari came into power by harnessing the power of social media in 2015 when he became the first politician to defeat an incumbent president at the polls.
Buhari, a former military dictator, relied on his party’s social media campaigns to rebrand his candidacy which had been flawed by his autocratic antecedents.
“The digital strategy has been a lifeline of the campaign for young people. We needed to create an image that enabled people to connect with him,” Adebola Williams, the co-founder of StateCraft, a governance consulting firm, said in an interview at the time.
The Buhari administration would later champion plans to regulate the use of social media in Nigeria.
Twitter announced in April that it will set up its first Africa base in Ghana, the second-most populous country in West Africa, after Nigeria.
In a statement announcing the decision, Twitter described Ghana “as a champion for democracy, a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet.”
At the time, Information Minister Lai Mohammed — whose ministry announced the Twitter ban — blamed the decision on Nigerians criticizing their country.
“This is what you get when you de-market your own country. We are not saying that you should not criticize the country but be fair and patriotic. You can imagine the kind of job opportunities that siting that headquarters in Nigeria would have created, the kind of visibility it would have given Nigeria but we destroyed it,” Mohammed said.