In a surprising abuse of power, the Nigerian government has decided to suspend Twitter for the entire populace. No one in Nigeria is permitted to utilize Twitter. This isn’t a causal suspension either–those who break the new law risk actual prison time for continuing to tweet. This tremendous threat to freedom of speech and civil liberties is an incredible overreach by the powers that be and might be an ungovernable law. So how did we get to a point where an entire country banned one of the most popular public forums on the internet?
Twitters New Rules
In the aftermath of the U.S. election and the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Twitter was consistently accused of being a reason for the spread of misinformation. While initially, the site hid behind the notion of protecting freedom of speech, they finally concluded that some mode of censorship might be necessary, specifically when people in positions of power spread misinformation or hateful ideology. Most famously so far, Twitter permanently suspended the account for former President of the United States Donald Trump after his account was used to insight violence at the Capitol Riots on January 6th. To stop the spread of misinformation that the election was illegitimate, Twitter refused their platform to the blustering loser of the presidential election. This laid the foundation for what was to come in Nigeria.
On June 3rd, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted the following: “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand” in reference to civil unrest in the nation. This tweet, which was deleted after posting, prompted immediate outrage from the civilian population with calls on Twitter to ban the account for abusive speech. Those in the country found it to be an unabashed shaming of the southeastern region of the country who Buhari consistently, and without evidence, accuses of causing unrest and destruction of public infrastructure in the nation. Under the new guidelines twitter has set for itself, it suspended President Buhari’s account indefinitely.
Immediately the government struck back with an indefinite suspension of Twitter and risk of arrest for those who utilize it. Ironically stated in a post on the federal government’s Twitter handle, this news shocked Nigerians as well as international communities, and immediately some people lost access to their Twitter accounts. This tremendous overreach of power and attack on the open internet and free speech is fascinating, as it’s practically unenforceable. Presently only government officials and some businesses are genuinely following the ban. However, the sweeping power of the federal government is often backed by an overzealous police force that is willing to enforce rules whether they are deemed legitimate or not. Mr. Buhari, a former dictator accustomed to locking up journalists in the 1980s, is attempting to strongarm his way into thought policing once again. Only time will tell how effective this ban will prevent individuals from sharing the sacred right to access information and opinions in a public forum.