It is looking increasingly likely that the Nigerian government might take its war on social media up a notch by adding other popular platforms to its “blacklist.” This comes as controversy rages on over its June 4 decision to block the use of Twitter in the country.

A long list of events has trailed the Twitter ban – a surge in the use of VPNs; media houses restricted from tweeting or sourcing news on Twitter; an attempt by the government to regulate all online media through the national broadcasting commission; at least three lawsuits filed against the federal government; an ECOWAS Court ruling that stops officials from prosecuting Nigerians still using Twitter.

In what will only further stoke concerns of a possible slide to totalitarianism, Nigeria’s information minister, Lai Mohammed, has said the government would not hesitate to suspend Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms if they are found to be promoting posts capable of destabilising the country. This is the basis the Buhari administration has used to justify the Twitter ban. 

Lai Mohammed made the disclosure on Tuesday when he appeared before an investigative hearing organised by the House of Representatives. TechCabal previously reported that lawmakers in the lower chamber had, after the suspension of Twitter, summon the minister for questioning as part of an investigation into the circumstances behind the decision.

Defending the government’s decision, Lai Mohammed argued that Twitter was used to disseminate information “that endangers the life and security” of Nigerians and causes disunity in the country. He added that other platforms found guilty of doing the same will not be spared by the government.

The latest threat against social media platforms comes barely three weeks after Twitter was suspended in Nigeria and in spite of widespread condemnation, from national and international organisations, over the decision.

Twitter operations illegal, minister says

According to local media reports, the minister further argued that the operation of Twitter in Nigeria’s social media space “is not legally permissible.”

Lai Mohammed cited the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020, saying it does not allow foreign companies to do business in Nigeria if they are not registered. Hence Twitter has to be incorporated in the country before it is given the legitimate rights to operate.

“As it regards the operation of foreign companies in Nigeria, the law provides that a foreign company, which fails to take necessary steps to obtain incorporation as a separate entity in Nigeria for that purpose, but until so incorporated, the foreign company shall not carry on business in Nigeria or exercise any powers of a registered company,” he said.

According to the minister, Twitter’s suspension is backed by international laws including articles 24, 25, and 26 of the African Union on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (CCPR).

“The federal government of Nigeria is further empowered to take all reasonable steps to defend its cyberspace where it perceives or finds that a cyber-crime, is threatened to be committed, has been committed, or is being committed on and through its cyberspace,” Lai Mohammed was quoted as saying.

The minister, however, noted that in this circumstance, the decision of the government to ban the activities of Twitter for being a national security threat is “well-founded in law” as the platform “affords IPOB, an organisation already proscribed by the Federal High Court, to champion its seditious and terrorist based activities.”

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Michael Ajifowoke | Author

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