A tweet by Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, that seemed to imply certain people in the country will be dealt with violently caused a stir on Tuesday evening.
Almost immediately, there were calls for Buhari’s tweet to be removed from the social media platform.
Twitter answered that call on Wednesday afternoon. The tweet was part of a thread in which Buhari expressed displeasure at “attacks on critical national infrastructure,” including on facilities belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Buhari’s deleted tweet was widely criticised as summoning the ghosts of the Nigeria civil war, a deadly three-year combat between the Nigerian government and a government in southeast Nigeria, which had seceded from the republic.
The Biafra war, as it is alternatively called, led to the death of nearly 1 million people, according to various accounts.
While he may have intended to send a strong message against recent vandalism in the southeast supposedly led by the Indigenous People of Biafra, a proscribed militant group, Buhari’s comment was interpreted as an affront and a threat to people in the region.
“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,” the tweet read.
“Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
The controversial tweet was from what Buhari said in a televised meeting with the leadership of INEC. He did not seem to be reading from a script, according to a video recording.
Twitter had never deleted tweets by the Nigerian president before. Given that Nigeria is the platform’s biggest market in Africa, it marks a new paradigm in the role it plays shaping civic spaces and citizen-government relations in Africa.
Twitter may have been nudged to take action on Buhari’s tweet following complaints by multiple accounts. Peoples’ Gazette, an online publication on political affairs, reports that Twitter initially said Buhari’s tweet did not violate its policies but reversed itself later.
In a statement to TechCabal, Twitter said the tweet “was in violation of the Twitter Rules. The account owner will be required to delete the violative Tweet and spend 12 hours with their account in read-only mode.”
Meanwhile Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister, has accused Twitter of not being clear in its standard for deleting tweets, implying the US company has a longstanding bias against the Nigerian government.
“The mission of Twitter in Nigeria is very very suspect,” Mohammed said.
“Has Twitter deleted the violent tweets that Nnamdi Kanu has been sending? The same Twitter that was funding #ENDSARS protesters… When people were burning Police stations and killing policemen, for Twitter it was about the right to protest. But when a similar thing happened at the [US] Capitol, it became an insurrection.”
“Twitter’s mission in Nigeria, citing those two examples, is very suspect. What is their agenda?”
Last October, Twitter became the platform where the world learned much about END SARS protests in Nigeria. Jack Dorsey, the company’s CEO, expressed solidarity in a couple of tweets. But it is not clear that the company funded protesters in the way the minister alleges.