To those of us living in Canada, we have experienced the freedom that comes with social media. We are free to follow, post, and share whatever we’d like to. We are free to speak out against our government and criticize our politicians when we see fit. We can post just about anything we’d like to if it stays within the guidelines of the platform we are using (i.e., no hate speech). Unfortunately, not everyone has been able to enjoy social media the same way we have, and many of us are not aware of how important social media can be to people around the world regarding their rights and freedoms, their everyday lives, and speaking out against injustices.
Recently Nigeria has indefinitely suspended Twitter operations in the country, after the platform deleted one of the President’s tweets for violating its policies. The government of Nigeria has said this was inevitable, and that Twitter has been used to “undermine Nigeria’s corporate existence.” The tweet was deleted because it violated Twitter’s rules on abuse, which referred to the civil war almost 50 years ago.
What does it mean when a government restricts its members’ freedom of speech?
Free Speech in Nigeria
Nigeria’s freedom of expression has been protected by section 39 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but despite this, there has always been some form of government regulation on freedom of speech, especially when it comes to politics and discussions about anything that could be deemed “controversial”. As of 2020, over 100 newspapers in Nigeria were independent, but despite this the government has still placed a ban on Twitter, being one of the few places Nigerians can express their opinions openly and spread awareness about ongoing issues. With over 39 million users in Nigeria, this has been a huge controversy, with several organizations around the world speaking out, as well as Twitter’s statement saying the ban was “deeply concerning.”
Last year, the platform was widely used to spread awareness about the police brutality present in Nigeria, as well as the END SARS movement. Twitter was also the platform many Nigerians used to organize protests and other gatherings, as well as gain support, giving its youth a voice and a platform to speak out against injustices. Although, the government did not see it that way, and saw this as a threat. The Nigerian President has claimed the social media app has been a platform with a “litany of problems,” including fake news and misinformation, “which have real-world violent consequences.”
What about the United Nations?
Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects our freedom of expression. Even though we are all protected by this, governments often impose punishments for those who violate their own set of laws (even including rules that have not been legally passed), most of the time regarding those who speak out against the government, or simply partake in activities the government does not agree with. The People’s Democratic Party in Nigeria has spoken out against the ban alongside the Nigerian Bar Association, which has stated they will take legal action against the unlawful ban of Twitter if it is not reversed.
Amnesty International Nigeria came out with an official statement about the ban:
“Amnesty International condemns the Nigerian government’s suspension of Twitter in Nigeria–a social media platform widely used by Nigerians to exercise their human rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information… We call on the Nigerian authorities to immediately reverse the unlawful suspension and other plans to gag the media, repress civic space and undermine Nigerians’ human rights.”
Amnesty International Nigeria also went on to say that, “This action is clearly incompatible with Nigeria’s international obligations including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Nigeria will prosecute anyone who breaches the ban
Some users have found ways around the ban by using VPNs, but the government is adamant about their stance. The ban was not passed through the legislature, so it is currently unclear what charges will be made to those who are found to be using Twitter, and how the ban will be enforced, leaving many citizens fearing the unknown of the future ahead. This is also alarming as many have stated this is a step in the direction back to dictatorship in Nigeria.