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#TwitterBan: MTN, Glo, Airtel, others await FG’s formal order to block Twitter



The Federal Government on Friday announced the indefinite suspension of the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria..

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who announced the suspension in a statement by his Special Assistant, Segun Adeyemi, cited what he described “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”

According to him, the Federal Government has also directed the National Broadcasting Commission “to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.”

The government said the suspension would take effect soon.

The government’s decision came two days after Twitter on Wednesday deleted a controversial tweet posted by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on the Biafran war of 1967-1970 during which many lives were lost.

Buhari’s tweet, which was in reaction to ongoing unrest in the South-East, had read in part, “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.”

But the statement did not go down well with many Nigerians who felt Buhari’s comments were insensitive, particularly as his regime had not spoken hard on northern elements causing trouble in the country.

Following widespread complaints, Twitter took down Buhari’s post for violating the platform’s “abusive behaviour” policy.

But the deletion of Buhari’s tweet displeased the Nigerian government, with its spokesman, Mohammed, accusing the micro-blogging platform of double standard.

Mohammed, who on Wednesday addressed the State House correspondents, accused Twitter of complicity in the polarisation of Nigerians.

“Twitter may have its own rules but it’s not the universal rule.

“If Mr President feels very bad and concerned about a situation, he is free to express such views,” Mohammed had said.

A member of the ruling All Progressives Congress had last year sued Twitter’s Chief Executive Officer, Jack Dorsey, for $1bn, for supporting last October’s nationwide #EndSARS protests by Nigerians youths, seeking an end to police brutality.

In a move many interpreted as spiteful of Nigeria, Twitter in April announced it had picked Ghana as the base of its African headquarters.

Mohammed had then blamed Nigerian youths for Twitter’s decision to choose Ghana over Nigeria to site its African headquarters, saying it should be a lesson that the country would continue to lose economic opportunities if citizens don’t desist to paint the country in bad light.

In the Friday statement, the Federal Government was silent on when the suspension of Twitter operations would come into force.

As of the time of filing this report, checks by Saturday PUNCH showed that Twitter was still up and running.

FG yet to communicate to us, says service providers

Checks by Saturday PUNCH on Friday revealed that the Nigerian Communications Commission had yet to instruct the telecommunication service providers in the country to block Twitter’s URL in furtherance of the move to enforce the indefinite suspension of the micro-blogging site.

URL, which stands for Uniform Resource Locator, is an address of a website and it specifies its location on a computer network and a mechanism for retrieving it.

The NCC usually writes service providers to block URLs of websites unwanted by the Federal Government as was done in the case of online news outlet, Peoples Gazette, in January.

Saturday PUNCH learnt that as of 6pm on Friday, the service providers in the country, such as MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9 Mobile, had yet to receive any letter from the NCC in relation to Twitter suspension.

When contacted, a director with the NCC told this newspaper that there had been no communication from the Federal Government on the suspension of Twitter.

The director, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authourised to talk, however, said the suspension would not be effective because it could be circumvented through Virtual Private Network otherwise known as VPN.

The director said, “We, at the NCC, are waiting for a directive from the Federal Government to ask service providers to block the URL of Twitter. However, as of 6pm, we have received no such directive. But how do they even intend to achieve that now that there is VPN?

“Look at it this way – blocking the URL is like putting an anti-virus into the system. And the VPN is like an anti-virus. Nigeria does not have a central Internet point and as such people will exploit the vulnerability inherent in each of the various networks to get to Twitter.”

Also, an official with one of the service providers told Saturday PUNCH that they had not received any directive from the NCC to block Twitter.

He, however, said the VPN could easily be used in circumventing the ban.

The official, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “The ban has cost implications as the networks will need to invest in procuring these firewalls and continuously upgrade them as people will always try to circumvent them.”

Also, another high-ranking player in the sector who pleaded anonymity said the telcos were duty-bound to obey whatever they are given by the FG on the Twitter ban.

He said, “I don’t want to comment on it because it is politically related. However, the telcos have to do what the FG wants. Their licences were issued by the FG through the NCC and there is a clause there they must obey whatever the government asks them to do. They have to obey.

“The operational licence was issued to operate as a telecom company in Nigeria. And they are expected to abide by the laws and regulations of the country. If the government has passed a policy or directive that I don’t want XYZ to be making use of the Nigerian server space, the telcos have to carry it out. Their licences were not issued by the US, and Nigeria has its sovereignty, its own legal environment that has a lot to do with the government. The telcos will have to abide by what the FG wants.”

Meanwhile, Spectranet, ipNX Nigeria Limited, Swift Networks Ltd., Vezeti Service LTD, Cyberspace Network Limited, Mobitel Limited, Smile Nigeria, ITClick Solutions Limited, and Netcom Africa are some of the Internet Service Providers in the nation.

Nigeria had about 33 million active social media users as of January 2021. WhatsApp is the most popular platform used in the country, with over 90 million users according to Statista. According to Statista, about 61.4 per cent of Nigerian social media users use Twitter, 86.2 per cent use Facebook, 81.6 per cent use YouTube, 73.1 per cent use Instagram, and 67.2 per cent use Facebook Messenger,

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