EXCLUSIVE: Biden administration concerned over Nigeria’s suspension of Twitter, underscores importance of free exchange of information

Nigeria’s decision Friday to indefinitely suspend Twitter’s operations in the country is concerning and a threat to democracies everywhere, said the Biden administration.

“We are concerned by reports that the Government of Nigeria has suspended Twitter’s operations, which can undermine Nigerians’ ability to exercise their right to seek, receive, and impart information. As the President has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council.

Gen Buhari Image Courtesy: Chatham House 
Muhammadu Buhari at the Chatham House in London in April 2015. Image Courtesy: Chatham House

The decision to suspend Twitter’s operations has been met with widespread outrage and condemnation from Nigerians and from the international community.

“Any attempts to undermine the free press and civic space online, stifle dissent, or spread disinformation are a threat to democracies everywhere,” said the U.S. National Security Council.

The state of freedom and democracy in Nigeria has already been a growing concern for many, including the United States.

In May, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted problematic infringements on personal liberties in Nigeria, expressing concern over the number of people being imprisoned or put to death for blasphemy. “In Nigeria, courts continue to convict people of blasphemy, sentencing them to long-term imprisonment or even death,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Vice President Kamala D. Harris, National Security Advisor to the President Jake Sullivan, and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Nancy McEldowney at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 4, 2021. [State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha 
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Vice President Kamala D. Harris, National Security Advisor to the President Jake Sullivan, and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Nancy McEldowney at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 4, 2021. [State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha

As Nigeria faces challenges and instability stemming from conflict with insurgent groups, many fear that actions from the government such as the suspension of Twitter will only worsen the state of human rights in Nigeria.

Regarded by many as a platform for open and free exchange of information and ideas, the suspension of Twitter poses a potential threat to the democratic development of Nigeria.

Deputy director at Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project Kolawole Oluwadare asserted, “The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is a blatant violation of Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information” and called on the Nigerian government to “guarantee the constitutionally and internationally recognized human rights of Nigerians including online.”

As the people of Nigeria aspire toward democracy, the willingness of President Buhari to suspend Twitter’s operations raises concerns that the country may be backsliding toward authoritarianism and growing dictatorial powers.

Amnesty International Nigeria condemned the Nigerian government’s suspension of Twitter, referring to it as “a social media widely used by Nigerians to exercise their human rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”

In its 2020 report on the state of democracy around the world, the Economist gave Nigeria an overall democracy index score of 4.10 out of 10. This indicates that the nation is just 0.10 above being classified as “authoritarian” and a far cry from qualifying as a legitimate or thriving democracy.

The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is widely agreed upon by human rights organizations and the international community to be a troubling development that inhibits the full and proper democratization of Nigeria.

President Buhari and the Nigerian government face a critical decision. Will Nigeria embrace the free and open exchange of information and democratic ideals or will it resort to authoritarianism at the expense of individual rights?

Noah Pitcher is a global politics correspondent for Today News Africa covering the U.S. government, United Nations, African Union, and other actors involved in international developments, political controversies, and humanitarian issues.

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