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Twitter’s Operations Are Suspended in Nigeria

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Nigeria has indefinitely suspended the operations of

Twitter,

the government said on Friday, two days after the social media giant suspended the account of the nation’s president for a tweet warning of a return to violence in a civil war that cost millions of lives in the 1960s.

Information minister Lai Mohammed cited “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” In his statement, he didn’t explain that reference, nor was it immediately clear what the minister meant by a suspension of operations or how the government would enforce it.

Twitter said the Nigerian government’s statement was deeply concerning. “We’re investigating and will provide updates when we know more,” the company said.

On Wednesday, Twitter removed a tweet from President

Muhammadu Buhari,

a former general and military junta leader, that appeared to threaten violent reprisals for separatists from the Independent Peoples’ Republic of Biafra in the nation’s southeast that the government has blamed for attacks on property and assassinations.

The tweet, since deleted, said the culprits were too young to understand what happened during the civil war but issued a warning that: “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.” After thousands of Twitter users reported the post, the microblogging site deleted it, with a comment: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules.”

The Nigerian government’s announcement comes five months after Twitter banned Donald Trump’s personal account, citing the risk of further incitement of violence and closing off one of the president’s main communication tools following the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his followers.

Twitter’s Operations Are Suspended in Nigeria 2

Twitter is a potent political force in Nigeria, where a poorly-funded and partisan media is little trusted.



Photo:

pius utomi ekpei/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The news comes as governments across Africa and much of the world are cutting people off from the global web with growing frequency and little scrutiny. Parts or all of the internet were shut down at least 213 times in 33 countries last year, the most ever recorded, according to Access Now, a nonprofit that advocates for a free internet and has monitored the practice for a decade. The shutdowns were used to stop protests, censor speeches, control elections and silence people, human-rights advocates said.

Twitter is a potent political force in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, where a poorly-funded and partisan media is little trusted by the estimated 200 million population. Mr. Buhari, who joined the platform while campaigning for president eight years ago, has 4.1 million followers and regularly posts long threads to announce and explain government policy.

In 2014, Nigerian activists popularized the global hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, calling for the release of 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants from their school in the country’s northeast. The hashtag embarrassed the government of president

Goodluck Jonathan

and paved the way for Mr. Buhari to win the 2015 elections.

In 2020, youthful demonstrators against police violence rallied around another hashtag—#EndSARS—which morphed into a broader antigovernment movement, spurring solidarity protests in London and Washington.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai stopped short of endorsing changes proposed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Section 230, a law that spells out who is legally responsible for content on the internet. (Published 3/25/2021) Photo: C-SPAN

Jack Dorsey,

Twitter’s founder, took a personal interest in Nigeria after visiting in 2019. After a monthlong tour of the country and two other African states, he mused about moving to the continent part-time, and began regularly tweeting articles about the country’s tech scene. When the EndSars movement against police brutality swept the country he joined in, tweeting the hashtag. By this year his view on Nigeria’s business potential appeared to have dimmed when he chose the country’s neighbor and regional rival, Ghana, to be the base for Twitter’s new Africa’s headquarters.

The banning of twitter marks a major moment for a country with a long push and pull history between its central government and the independent press. Under Mr. Buhari’s first stint in power, as a military dictator in the mid-1980s, journalists were jailed and the press tightly censored. Democratic elections in 1999 brought in a free, but corruption-troubled press where political leaders paid for favorable coverage, or to undermine rivals.

Twitter became an escape valve for public frustration, in a country where half the population is under 18 and unemployment is rampant.

But the site also became a gathering ground for separatist movements. For months, Boko Haram had an account on the website where it would upload footage of the schoolboys it had abducted then deployed into battle. A movement to separate the southeast from the rest of the country also used the site to rally followers to its cause.

It was unclear how the government was going to implement its plan but Mr. Buhari’s social media adviser, Bashir Ahmed signaled that the government may seek to promote a local alternative.

“Twitter Nigeria!” he tweeted.

Twitter’s Operations Are Suspended in Nigeria 3

Nigerian activists popularized the global hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, calling for the release of 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants.



Photo:

afolabi sotunde/Reuters

Write to Joe Parkinson at [email protected] and Drew Hinshaw at [email protected]

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