Nigeria has directed all TV and radio stations to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately” and described its use as unpatriotic, the country’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has said.
The government of Africa’s most populous country said it was suspending the platform on Friday, two days after the social media company deleted a tweet from the president’s account for violating its rules.
“Broadcasting stations are hereby advised to de-install twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source… of information gathering for news,” NBC’s director, Armstrong Idachaba, said. “It would be unpatriotic for any broadcaster in Nigeria to continue to patronise the suspended Twitter as a source of its information.”
More than 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, according to NOI polls, a public opinion and research organisation.
The foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, summoned diplomats for a meeting on Monday in the capital, Abuja, after the EU and several countries issued a joint statement voicing concerns with the Twitter ban.
“Banning systems of expression is not the answer,” the EU, US, Britain, Canada and Ireland said in the statement on Saturday.
The statement added it was “precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
The government’s suspension came after Twitter on Wednesday deleted a remark on President Muhammadu Buhari’s account in which he referred to the country’s civil war five decades ago in a warning about recent unrest.
The presidency denied the Twitter suspension was a response to the removal of that post.
“There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences,” a presidency spokesman, Garba Shehu, said.
Shehu said the removal of Buhari’s tweet was disappointing and “major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities”.
Twitter said it was deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria and it would work to restore access for all.
International human rights groups have also condemned the move, which followed previous attempts by the government to regulate social media.
“VPN app” was the second most searched trend Saturday on Google in Nigeria, as virtual private networks can enable Twitter users to bypass the ban.
Nigeria warned, however, that it would prosecute violators.
“Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has directed for immediate prosecution of offenders of the federal government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria,” a spokesman, Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, said.
The platform has played an important role in public discourse in the country, including under the hashtag BringBackOurGirls, after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in 2014, andEndSars, during anti-police brutality protests last year.