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  • Updated: June 13, 2021

Twitter Ban: Buhari And The Politics Of A Child Who Took His Ball Away After Being Dribbled

Twitter Ban: Buhari And The Politics Of A Child Who Took His

File Image of President Muhammadu Buhari

The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, June 4, 2021 announced the indefinite suspension of the operation of the social media giant, Twitter, in Nigeria.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who announced the suspension, argued that the micro-blogging platform had become a place where fake news spread like wildfire. He also alleged that the activities of Twitter in Nigeria were suspicious.

But the suspension came after the social media platform deleted Buhari’s tweet for violating its policies. This makes the administration's move similar to that of a knows boy who took his ball away after he was dribbled by others. The boy will remain alone while others will continue to play together.

Without looking inward as to where it has gone wrong, thus without showing some level of understanding with the 21st Century medium of expression and its policies, the authorities treated Nigerians as non-thinking beings.

Why Twitter Deleted Buhari’s Tweet

In May 2021, INEC facilities were attacked not less than eight times in the five states of the South-East and one state in the South-South. The attacks happened on May 2, 9, 13, 17, 18, 23, 25, and 30 in Akwa Ibom, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra, and the Imo states respectively.

The President had taken to Twitter to react after receiving the brief from the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu,  incessant attacks on the commission’s facilities, especially in the South-East.

Buhari in his reaction threatened to treat some Nigerians as “misbehaving” in “the language they understand”, making a significant reference to the civil war.

The statement by the President generated lots of reactions from many Nigerians. Being posted on Twitter, the statement and video were reported multiple times, thus, Twitter deleted the post and suspended the president's account for 12 hours.

Buhari, under the guise of defending democracy, moved to gag a medium of expression for millions of Nigerians, by extension, suspending freedom of speech and regulating the media.

Buhari’s Presidency, in which many of its members lag on how the affairs of the 21st Century go, displayed the fear of being threatened by a medium owned by non-Nigerian. It suggested that the platform has a suspicious agenda in the country decided to shave the heads of 40 million Twitter subscribers in Nigeria in their absence to announce the indefinite suspension.

Is Buhari Respecter of Human Rights and Rule of Law?

The question of President Buhari being a respecter of human rights and the rule of law requires some logical analysis before concluding. There are many cases where this administration abused human rights and staged a direct affront on the rule of law.

Three of these cases are cited below, they included the cases of the Federal Government vs Omoyele Sowore; the narrative of Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and the popular EndSARS protests.

Under Buhari’s administration, we have experienced a direct affront on the judiciary by the executive. For instance, on December 9, 2019, the DSS disrupted court proceedings and arrest the former presidential aspirant, Omoyele Sowore inside the court.

The moment Sowore was arrested in court

This remained a significant and historic moment in the history of democracy in Nigeria.

In December 2015, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), accused the Nigerian Army, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari of killing over 300 Nigerians who were members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), also known as Shia.

The army denied the report while accusing the pro-Iranian sect of trying to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, which the Islamic sect had denied.

The Military also released images purportedly showing Shia with sticks and some throwing stones at soldiers when they tried to pass through a makeshift roadblock erected by the religious group.

However, the Human Rights Watch said there was no “credible information” that any soldiers were injured or killed.

The HRW added that it was difficult to determine an accurate death toll but its information was gathered from hospital sources and eyewitnesses.

Despite the warning by the Islamic spiritual leader in Nigeria, Sultan of Sokoto, that the raid on the sect could spark another insurgency, the Nigerian government arrested the leader of the sect, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenat.

The duo spent about five years in detention before their trial began on September 29, 2019. After their arrest and the alleged killing in 2015, the government set up a committee to investigate the accusation and after five years, the report of that committee has not been published.

Also, the Minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, following the shooting of unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, without telling Nigerians why the Nigerian army have to open fire on unarmed protesters or telling Nigerians who ordered the shooting of unarmed protesters, blamed the social media for fueling the protests called for a bill to regulate it.

Does Buhari Ever Want Social Media To Breath Since He Came In, In 2015? 

Since Buhari’s administration was inaugurated in 2015, there has been an attempt to regulate social media. At this point of the country, every Nigerian must be conscious of the activities of the House of Assembly, especially Bills under debate and analysis.

In 2016, the Eight National Assembly under the leadership of Bukola Saraki tried to pass a bill that will regulate social media through the back door.

A Bill was titled “Frivolous Petitions (Prohibition) Bill 2015", was introduced in 2016, met a heated protest, and was struck out.

On March 26, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to the Digital Right Bill on the ground that it “covers too many technical subjects and fails to address any of them extensively.”

According to analysts, the Digital Right Bill was supposed to be one that protected the fundamental rights of Nigerians on the Internet and ensured their safety and well-being.

On October 1, 2019, Buhari again threatened to take decisive action against the social media space in his independent speech. The President said, “Our attention is increasingly being focused on cyber-crimes and the abuse of technology through hate speech and other divisive material being propagated on social media. Whilst we uphold the constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the purported exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our National Security, we will take firm and decisive action.”

On November 5, 2019, the Senate embarked on the first reading of a bill to regulate the online space. More so, there are two bills in the Nigerian Senate that will kill businesses, and suppressed freedom of expression on the internet space if passed.

One is the reintroduction of the Hate Speech Bill and the other is dubbed the Social Media Bill.

In addition, the Hate Speech Bill has two versions in the Nigeria House of Assembly. One version is in the Nigerian Senate while the other in the House of Representatives.

In the House of Representatives, the Bill was first read on July 24, 2019, by Mohammed Tahir Monguno, representing Monguno/Marte/Nganzai Federal Constituency of Borno State. Monguno sponsored the “Hate Speech Prohibition Bill 2019” in the Green Chamber.

In the Senate, the current Hate Speech Bill, originally called the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches (est. etc.) Bill 2019, was first read on November 11, sponsored by Sabi Abdullahi, the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, representing Niger North Senatorial District.

The bill clearly stated that anyone found guilty of hate speech is liable to life imprisonment and if it leads to the death of another, the guilty party should be sentenced to death by hanging.

Following criticism that confronted the Hate Speech Bill on its arrival, its sponsor removed the death penalty attached to it.

In October 2020, Buhari, through his Minister, Lai Mohammed, when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Information and National Orientation to defend the 2021 budget proposal, solicited the support of the National Assembly, in formulating a national policy on the use of social media to control fake news and misinformation.

“If you go to China, you cannot get Google, Facebook or Instagram but you can only use your email because they have made sure that it is regulated,” Mohammed quoted.

According to data published by The Global Economy in 2020, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in China is ranked poorer than Nigeria. China is ranked 9.30, Nigeria is ranked 8.40. Also, China is a developed country while Nigeria is a developing country with a poor unemployment rate. In addition, there has been standing trade war between China and the United States, Facebook, Google, Instagram are owned by Americans.

The Danger Ahead in Summary

Since truth is relative in every human society, the attempt to control the use of social media is nothing but a monopoly of truth. This is because all the moves of the Federal Government and the House of Assembly under the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government is trying to model all Nigerians into a particular way of truth.

In summary, the proposed Bill granted law enforcement agents the power to arrest anyone found guilty of spreading false information. The idea appeared to be on the right path but any user could fall on the wrong side of the proposal as both “falsehood” and “truth” has relative meaning.

Just like the boy who took his ball because he was dribbled would feel being on the right side, so, also others who were left without the ball would feel his wrongness. Thus, there is a need for someone to come in and hear the case of both parties, then decide who is wrong and who is right, this is where the court comes in.

The Human Rights Lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, said, in a constitutional democracy, the government is not allowed to resort to self-help, arguing that rather than place a ban, the government should have “sued Twitter if the organization refuses to respond positively to the concerns of the government”.

Analyzing similar move in some African countries such as Tanzanian $930 annual blogger license fee, the Ugandan government’s introduction of the social media tax, the internet shutdown in the Benin Republic, Egypt’s Internet censorship, and South Africa’s Film and Publications Amendment Bill — named the Internet Censorship Bill by critics, one can conclude that media and media personalities will be strongly gagged.

It summed that access to information could either be controlled or doctored by the government at its discretion or simply non-existent at all. This will be as whatever the government says is truth will be published.

“The law enforcement department may direct the NCC to order the Internet access service provider to disable access by users in Nigeria to the online location and the NCC must give the Internet access service provider access blocking order,” the bill read in part. 

Thus, based on analysis and unfolding events, Twitter is not only the target of the Federal Government but social media in its entirety. While investment and businesses are growing on social media, the Nigeria Government was making a move to ban the productive channel with about 50 million of its people unemployed, according to the National Bureau of Statistic report of the fourth quarter of 2020 unemployment rate. 

“The number of persons in the economically active or working-age population (15 – 64 years of age) during the reference period of the survey, Q4, 2020 was 122,049,400. This is 4.3% higher than the figure recorded In Q2, 2020, which was 116.871, 186,” NBS said.

The breakdown of the report indicated that a total of 46.48 million Nigerians were unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2020 while the underemployed rate was down by 20.6 percent at 15.91 million.

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