On Friday, the Government of Nigeria banned Twitter indefinitely. The move comes just two days after Twitter removed a tweet by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, for allegedly breaching the social media site’s rules.

In the now deleted Tweet, President Buhari had said, “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.”

This was seen as a direct threat to some groups of people from the South Eastern part of the country who Buhari claims are destroying infrastructure in the region. During the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-70), over a million people were killed, most belonged to the Igbo tribe. Twitter thus deleted the tweet on Wednesday.

The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture issued a statement on Friday explaining the reasons behind the move saying, “The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension in a statement issued in Abuja on Friday, citing the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”

Further, “The Minister said the Federal Government has also directed the National Broadcasting l Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.”

While Twitter became inaccessible to most people in the country, many resorted to using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access the social media platform and express their outrage. Meanwhile, Olumide Akpata, President of the Nigerian Bar Association announced that if the ban was not reversed, his group would challenge it in public interest. He also called out the move to license OTT and social media platforms as “disguised attempt to regulate social media, restrict freedom of speech and shrink civic space.”

Amnesty International Nigeria condemned the move saying, “This action is clearly inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s international obligations including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” It called on Nigerian authorities to “immediately reverse the unlawful suspension and other plans to gag the media, repress the civic space, and undermine Nigerians’ human rights.”

The Twitter ban not only attracted sharp criticism from civil rights groups and activists in Nigeria, but also governments across the world. The diplomatic missions of Canada, European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States issued a joint statement saying, “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.” They added, “The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less communication…”

Meanwhile, Twitter responded to the ban by advocating for a free and open internet, and issued a statement saying, “We are 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.”

*Feature image: Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons.