Mixed reactions on Monday trailed a statement by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) directing all television and radio stations in the country to de-install Twitter and desist from using it as a source of news.
NBC also warned broadcast stations against using the microblogging platform in any of their programmes because that will be an unpatriotic act.
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“Consequent on the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria by the federal government over the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining the corporate existence of Nigeria, the National Broadcasting Commission directs all broadcasting stations in Nigeria to suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”, the acting Director-General of the commission, Armstrong Idachaba, said in the statement.
Idachaba said in compliance with the directive, broadcasting stations are advised to de-install Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source of information gathering for news and programmes presentation especially phone-in.
He quoted Section 2(1)r of the NBC Act which entrusts the commission with the responsibility to ensure strict adherence to the national laws, rules and regulations as ground for the directive.
“Also, Section 3.11.2 of Nigeria Broadcasting Code provides that “the broadcaster shall ensure that law enforcement is upheld at all times in a matter depicting that law and order are socially superior to or more desirable than crime and anarchy,” he added.
He equally drew the broadcasters’ attention to Section 5.6.3 of the code which requires broadcasters to be mindful of materials that may cause disaffection, incite panic or rift in the society in the use of user-generated content (UGC).
The D-G said it will be unpatriotic for any broadcaster in Nigeria to continue to patronise the suspended Twitter as a source of its information “therefore strict compliance is enjoined.”
The statement from NBC, however, attracted mixed reactions from a cross-section of Nigerians and organisations, particularly broadcast stations. While some welcomed the move, others said it was an infringement on freedom of the press.
Reacting to the development, the Online Publishers of Nigeria (OPAN), urged the federal government to immediately reverse the ban on Twitter operations in the country and stop infringing on the rights of citizens to freely express themselves.
Austyn Ogannah, President and Daniel Elombah, General Secretary, OPAN in a statement said the reasons adduced for the suspension or ban of Twitter have remained unconvincing because the federal government failed to exhaust other channels of communication with the social networking platform.
“The action of the federal government amounts to killing an ant with a sledgehammer and has given Nigeria a very bad image in the eyes of the international community,” the statement reads.
OPAN further decried what it described as the clandestine effort to gag social media voices in Nigeria and called on the federal government to “exercise restraint in dealing with issues that affect the youths, freedom of expression, media freedom, and those actions that could directly or indirectly widen the unemployment gap in the country.”
In a similar vein, the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rescind his government’s decision to suspend Twitter in Nigeria.
In a statement signed by its President, Mr Dotun Oladipo and General Secretary, Mr Danlami Nmodu, mni on Monday, GOCOP said the suspension of Twitter is a major setback for online publishing and other businesses which rely on the social media platform for mass circulation and marketing of their businesses.
“We believe this suspension will ruin our businesses and shrink the democratic space. Even more, this action will leave many social media handlers who work full-time doing legitimate businesses jobless. This will compound the already troubling unemployment situation in the country.
“We believe this action is more injurious to the survival of Nigerian young business entrepreneurs who rely on Twitter. We note that there are also millions of Nigerians who use Twitter to ventilate their democratic right of freedom of expression responsibly. The suspension clearly shrinks the democratic space,” the statement reads.
GOCOP advised the president to explore alternative means of relating with Twitter to resolve whatever difference that arose.
Twitter suspension unlawful- SERAP
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) condemned as patently unlawful and unconstitutional, the directive by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to all broadcast stations in the country to suspend the patronage of Twitter with immediate effect.
SERAP, in a statement on Monday by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, stated that this directive by the NBC is itself unlawful because it is based on another unlawful decision by the federal government to suspend Twitter in Nigeria.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. This action by NBC is yet another nail in the coffin for human rights, media freedom and independent journalism under this government.
“The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should publicly and vigorously express concerns over the Nigerian government’s increasingly brutal crackdown on media freedom, and use all possible means to urge the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to protect and respect freedom of expression,” the statement reads.
NPC urges compliance
However, the Nigerian Press Council on Monday directed all media organisations in the country to immediately suspend the patronage of Twitter and desist from using the platform as a source of information gathering for news pending the reversal of the decision.
The Executive Secretary of the council, Francis Nwosu, in a statement said: “It must be noted that the decision is not aimed at gagging the press, restricting the flow of information or freedom of expression as being bandied by some sections of the Nigerian public.”
Also speaking, the Managing Director, Radio Now, Kadaria Ahmed, expressed dismay over the federal government’s action but said it will be unpatriotic for any broadcaster in Nigeria to continue patronising the suspended Twitter.
“We believe this amounts to an attack on the media and freedom of speech, both of which are guaranteed by the Constitution of Nigeria. Section 39(1) guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental right. Section 22 of Nigeria’s constitution guarantees press freedom by stating that the press, radio, television, and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.
“Radio Now will, under duress, comply with the directive of the commission while consulting with our lawyers on the legality of this directive. The advice we receive will determine our next steps.
“It is important to state that we too are dismayed at the direction our beloved nation is headed but while we recognize the responsibility of the government to act where it sees a threat to the country, we believe such decisions must consider the implication for press freedom, our fragile democracy and the impact on livelihoods,” Kadaria said.
Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Hajiya Sa’a Ibrahim, declined to respond to the directive issued by the NBC because the statement conveying the directive was not addressed to the BON.
“It was a press statement released to social media. It was not addressed to BON and I have made some consultations, none of our members was reached individually by NBC through the letter. So, on that basis, we are not responding to that. I am not issuing any statement in that regard because the letter has not been addressed to me or any of our members”, she said.
Hajiya Sa’a, who is the Director-General of Kano state-owned Abubakar Rimi Television (ARTV), however, said: “As a Nigerian first and as a broadcaster, I think the integrity of Nigeria should be respected. Secondly, the media should be consulted on issues of this nature because we are a critical stakeholder in this and the government should be consulting with the critical stakeholders in taking a decision of this magnitude.”
PDP admonishes FG
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Monday cautioned the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government against harassing foreign envoys and other members of the international community for speaking out against the infringement on the rights of Nigerians by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The party’s position followed the summoning of the envoys of the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada among others by the Federal Government, for standing on the side of Nigerians in criticizing the unwarranted suspension of Twitter in our country.
The PDP, in a statement by its spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan, said it is alarmed by the development which smacked of intolerance towards the international community as obtained in Idi Amin’s dictatorial Uganda of 1971 to 1979.
“Our party notes that there is no law or statute that prohibits foreign envoys from speaking out against clear violation of internationally enshrined freedom of expression and right to social interactions as provided by Twitter and other social media platforms.
“In fact the defence of such rights is a fundamental duty which envoys owe their host nations and the international community.
“Our party, therefore, demands that the federal government should listen to the voice of reason, end its misrule and desist from infringing on the rights of Nigerians as being witnessed in the illegal and vexatious ban on Twitter,” the statement reads.
No timeline for lift on Twitterter suspension — FG
The federal government said on Monday that there is no timeline for lifting the suspension placed on Twitter in Nigeria.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama, who spoke with newsmen shortly after a closed-door meeting with the envoys of the US, UK, Canada, EU and Ireland, said there was no definite timeline for that, adding that discussion is ongoing to see how that progresses.
He noted that the condition to restore Twitter in Nigeria is “responsible communication” so as to make them forces for the global good.
“We know the power of words, (when the power of words is good and when the power of words is bad) Twitter has the power to manage and facilitate the communication of billions of people around the world and this has to come with responsibility, absolutely with responsibility.
“So, we want to give a condition of responsible use of the media. We are not saying that Twitter is threatening the country or any such thing; why we have taken this measure is to stop them from being used as platforms for destabilisation and facilitation of criminality and encouragement of criminalities,” he said.