Nigeria:  Authorities should stop clamping down on digital rights

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the decision of the Nigerian authorities to indefinitely suspend the social networking service, Twitter, in the country after the company deleted two threatening posts by President Buhari. This arbitrary decision constitutes a serious violation of Nigerian rights to freedom of expression and access to information. The authorities must immediately reconsider this decision and comply with international standards.

Alfred Bulakali, Deputy Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa raised his concerns in these following words:

“The Nigerian government decision to suspend Twitter in the country is appalling and unjustified. This decision constitutes a violation of fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information, guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution and several African and international standards… Such measure impact and violate other rights including economic rights of millions of twitter users in the country. Nigerian authorities should reverse this decision and comply with international standards.”

On Wednesday 2 June, the social media Twitter had removed two tweets from the twitter page of Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, in which he was threatening the Biafran independence movement evoking the 1967-1970 conflict that claimed one million lives. Two days later, On Friday 4, the Nigerian government, through a statement by the Minister of information and culture suspended Twitter in the country and called on the National Broadcasting Commission to initiate the process of licensing all social media and video streaming (commonly referred to as Over-The-Top, or OTT) operations in the country. Twitter’s ban was followed by a directive from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) to prosecution those still using Twitter after the indefinite ban.

The prohibition was enforced on Saturday with millions of users denied access to the service. But many Nigerians are trying to get away from the ban by using virtual private networks (VPNs). On June 6, NBC directed all broadcasting stations (radio and TV) to suspend the patronage of twitter immediately.

ARTICLE 19 condemns this arbitrary decision as a violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information recognised by the 1999 constitution of Nigeria. The  Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa 2019 in its 37 principle clearly stipulates that : “States shall facilitate the rights to freedom of expression and access to information online and the means necessary to exercise these rights.

Provide Licensing to OTT and social media should comply with international standards. The UN and ACHPR Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information as well the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States (OAS) and media representatives in a joint statement provides that measures such as imposing registration and other requirements on service providers are not legitimate, unless such measures conform to the three-part test including that they are provided for by law, pursue a legitimate aim and are necessary in a democratic society.”

Twitter allows citizens and all actors to have access to instantaneous information and to exercise their right to participate actively in public affairs and share their views on how the country is governed.  As of now, the measures announced by the government seem to be more of a retaliation than a response to a public interest imperative and do not meet the test of proportionality required by freedom of expression standards.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Nigerian authorities to rethink this suspension and stop threatening Nigerian citizens who keep using Twitter. ARTICLE 19 also warns against any attempt to impose licenses to Over the Top (OTT) and social media to undermine fundamental freedoms and remind the authorities of the necessity to explain the need for that regulation. The authorities must ensure that any such restrictions on freedom of expression are proportional and necessary in a democratic society.

Alfred Nkuru Bulakali, Deputy Regional Director, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa  Or Eliane NYOBE, Senior Program Assistant, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa:  Tel: +221 77 553 13 87 or +221 33 869 03 22


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