The U.S. Britain, Canada and the European Union voiced concern over Nigeria’s decision to indefinitely ban Twitter after the U.S. social media giant deleted a tweet from the President’s account for violating its rules.
International human rights groups have also condemned the move, which followed previous attempts by the government of Africa’s most populous country to regulate social media.
The diplomatic missions of the EU, U.S, Britain, Canada and Ireland issued a joint statement late Saturday condemning the ban.
“Banning systems of expression is not the answer,” it said.
“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 path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less, communication,” it added.
More than 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, according to NOI polls, a public opinion and research organization based in Nigeria.
The platform has played an important role in public discourse in the country, with hashtags #BringBackOurGirls after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in 2014, and #EndSARS during anti-Police brutality protests last year.
The presidency denied late on Saturday that the Twitter suspension was a response to the removal of that post.
Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu said this in a statement: “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,”
Shehu said the removal of Buhari’s tweet was “disappointing” and said “major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities.”
Twitter on the other hand said it was “deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria.”
“Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society.
“We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. #KeepitOn,” the company said in a statement.
It was discovered that “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.
Amnesty International condemned the ban, calling on Nigeria to “immediately reverse the unlawful suspension.”
“This repressive action is a clear attempt to censor dissent & stifle the civic space,” Human Rights Watch researcher Anietie Ewang said.