US, UK, Canada, Ireland, and EU release joint statement criticizing suspension of Twitter by Buhari government in Nigeria

The diplomatic missions of the United States of America, Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom released a joint statement on Saturday conveying their “disappointment over the Government of Nigeria’s announcement suspending #Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media.”

“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. Banning systems of expression is not the answer,” they wrote. “These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at 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.”

They said the path to a more secure Nigeria “lies in more, not less, communication to accompany the concerted efforts of Nigeria’s citizens in fulsome dialogue toward unity, peace and prosperity.”

“As Nigeria’s partners, we stand ready to assist in achieving these goals,” the diplomatic missions added.

In a separate statement the United States embassy in Nigeria said the government’s decision Friday to indefinitely suspend Twitter’s operations in the country directly undermines the country’s commitment to freedom of expression.

“Nigeria’s constitution provides for freedom of expression. The Government’s recent #Twitterban undermines Nigerians’ ability to exercise this fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses. Banning social media and curbing every citizen’s ability to seek, receive, and impart information undermines fundamental freedoms,” said a press release from the U.S. embassy released Saturday.

“As President Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater. The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, alongside concerted efforts toward unity, peace, and prosperity. #KeepitOn,” continued the statement.

As the Nigerian government has failed to fully embrace core tenets of democracy, the decision to suspend Twitter and restrict freedom of expression raises concerns for the Biden Administration that authoritarianism is a growing characteristic of President Buhari and the Nigerian government.

“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 on Friday.

The Nigerian government’s 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.

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?

Twitter’s suspension has triggered outrage in Nigeria and beyond, with a lawyer saying in a statement on Saturday that the decision may be illegal and unconstitutional.

“I have read the statement credited to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN where he was reported to have directed the Director of Public Prosecution to begin immediate prosecution of those who violate the Federal Government’s order suspending Twitter operations in Nigeria,” wrote Adeola Oyinlade, a Nigerian human rights lawyer and the 2018 International Bar Association (IBA) Human Rights Lawyer of the Year. “I want to state in clear terms that such directive is illegal and unconstitutional.”

Oyinlade added that “the executive order banning the operation of Twitter in Nigeria cannot override the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.”

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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