Monday, June 07, 2021

Nigerian Government Ban on Twitter: Violation of Freedom of Speech and Expression, By Isah Abdulazeez


Nigerians on Saturday woke up to the news that the Federal government of Nigeria has placed an indefinite ban on twitter's operations in Nigeria. The ban was a reaction to the micro blog's deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari's tweet which violated their rules.


However, the presidency through the ministry of information accused the American based micro blog of allowing its platform to be used to disseminate information that undermine Nigeria's corporate existence.


"The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria," it read.


Since the suspension was announced, it has attracted wide range of criticisms within Nigeria and the international community.

One of the fundamental characteristics of democracy is freedom of speech, information and expression. This means that any democracy that subjects the media to any form of government censorship cannot be said to be a democratic government.


The importance of media in a democracy prompted a former American president to assert that if he was asked to choose between a government without a legislative arm of government and a government without the media, he will choose a government without the legislative arm of government. This goes a long way to underline the importance and significance of media. No wonder in the American constitution amendment of 1791 it was declared that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances".


The above constitutional amendment gave the American citizens the freedom to hold opinion, own media organizations, criticize government and government agencies without being subjected to any form of intimidation. No wonder, Facebook, CNN and other media gave it hot to the immediate past president of the United States of America, Donald Trump without facing any consequences from the president or any of American security agencies.


Like the American constitution, Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental right. This right is also guaranteed under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.


The above shows that the Nigerian constitution though laced with lacuna that makes it a shadow of what a democratic constitution should be was drawn from the constitution of developed and flourishing democracies. One would have expected the Buhari's government, the Garba Sheus, the Lai Muhammed, Malami to know that criticism is part of democracy. Banning twitter and subsequently threatening violators of the ban with persecution is a gross violation of section 39 (1) of the 1999 constitution which Buhari sworn to uphold.


It is pertinent to state here and educate those criticizing twitter for setting up their African office in Ghana instead of Nigeria that pronouncements like this scare prospective investors away. Imagine if Twitter's office was in Nigeria, it would have been easy for the government to shut it down without giving a thought to the dire economic consequences of such action.


Actions like this are capable of earning Nigerians unwarranted bad image before the international community.

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