A coalition of 35 Civil Society Organisations has written to President Muhammadu Buhari to lift the Twitter suspension in Nigeria because of the socio-economic impact on the people.
In an open letter to President Buhari made available to Technology Times, the 35 CSOs from across Nigeria, Africa and beyond say that the indefinite suspension of Twitter, estimated to cause a daily loss of over ₦2 billion to the local economy, is at variance with his administration’s commitment to developing the nation’s digital economy.
Technology Times had reported that the President had this week named a Federal Government team to hold talks with Twitter after the U.S. tech giant reached out to the Nigerian government to resolve issues that led to the suspension of its operation in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the CSOs appealed to Buhari to rescind Twitter’s indefinite suspension announced by the Federal Government of Nigeria on June 4, 2021, say that “just like many other digital and social media platforms” the suspended service “has become a space for Nigerians to communicate, seek and disseminate information, engage in public debates and legitimate businesses.”
Twitter suspension in Nigeria ‘causing economic loss’
In a five-point demand to Buhari, the CSO requested that the Federal Government of Nigeria should restore access of all Nigerians to Twitter and ensure that the Internet, including social media platforms like Twitter, are open, free, and accessible.
They also want the Nigerian government to engage all stakeholders including the civil society, academics, human rights institutions, the private sector on the best approach to social media regulation and put measurable and specific processes in place to promote, protect and fulfil all human rights online and offline.
Beyond the economic loss, Twitter and other social media services proved useful during the COVID-19 pandemic in sharing life-saving and valuable information with the people of Nigeria, according to the coalition.
“Like many other governments across the globe, the Nigerian government has leveraged social media platforms to issue critical public information. A recent demonstration of this is the use of Twitter by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to issue information related to the COVID 19 pandemic. Currently the NCDC Twitter account has a following of 1.1 million, This is an acknowledgement of the importance of social media in reaching a significant proportion of the Nigerian population”, they told President Buhari in the open letter.
On the economic side, “many Nigerians who use Twitter for legitimate business purposes have been unable to do so” while research by Netblocks showed “that the Nigerian economy loses at least ₦2,177,089,051.00 (US$ 6,014,390.00) each day, since the indefinite suspension was announced.”
According to the CSOs, “since the suspension of Twitter services, Nigerians have not only been impacted socio-economically, but have also experienced violations of the freedom to exercise their human rights online.
“Growing Nigeria’s digital economy is one of the stated priorities of the current administration which is to help put an end to poverty and mitigate Nigeria’s unemployment challenges.”
The Twitter suspension also has human rights dimension as “the rights provided for under Chapter Four of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) including the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, press freedom, access to information, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly have been adversely impacted as an estimated 40 million Nigerian users are on Twitter exercising their rights to engage,organise and mobilise at national and global levels.”
According to the CSO, beyond the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), “Nigeria has the obligation to promote, protect and fulfil its obligations under international human rights law. For example, with respect to the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Nigeria is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which provides under its Article 19(1-3) that the rights are protected ‘regardless of frontiers’ with limited permissible restrictions.”
The CSOs further argue that such permissible restrictions are required to be legal, that is, provided for by a law which is clear and sufficiently precise as to the extent of the limitation.
They also need to be legitimate, in which case, the restrictions were done to protect the rights of others.
According to them, other grounds would be if the restrictions became necessary in a democratic society, that is, no other means exists to address the harm in question; and proportionate, in which case “the limitation on the right must not be overboard.”
According to the CSO, “in assessing the requirements for necessity, legality, legitimacy and proportionality, the following can be noted, first, there is currently no clear and sufficiently precise law in Nigeria that provides for such action by the Nigerian government.
“Second, the Nigerian government is yet to demonstrate how the suspension protects the rights of others.”
Also, the third reason is that, “the Nigerian government is yet to show that it has used the ‘least intrusive means’ of addressing the harm purported caused before the suspension. Fourth, the Nigerian government has failed to demonstrate that its actions to suspend Twitter’s operations was not excessive and over-reaching”, according to the coalition.
They argue that no credible evidence that Twitter suspension in Nigeria was effective at achieving any legitimate aim.
“If anything, it has negatively impacted Nigeria economically and further infringed on the rights of many Nigerians”, the coalition says.
The coalition tells President Buhari that “it s also important to note that these permissible restrictions allowed under international human rights law must be jointly fulfilled and not in parts. For example, it is still a violation of the right to freedom of expression if any of the requirements are complied with and others are not.
“These requirements seem to be the basis of the recent ruling of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (the ECOWAS Court) on 22 June 2021 restraining the government and its agents, from unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter and/or any other social media service provider(s), media houses, radio and television broadcast stations, the Plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
The collaborating CSOs include Nigeria’s Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Abdikhayr M. Hussein, Bareedo Platform Somalia; Access Now; AfriSIG Alumni; African Academic Network on Internet Policy; African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms Coalition and Africa Internet Rights Alliance.
Others include BudgIT Foundation; Change Tanzania Movement; Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA); Equip Africa Integrated Development Initiative; Give1Project, Gambia; Global Voices; International Press Centre (IPC); Internet Protection Society (Russia); Internet Society, Nigeria Chapter and INTIC4DEV – Instirute des TIC pour le Développement (AfRALO ALS).
The Jonction, Sénégal; Kathleen Ndongmo, Open Internet for Democracy Fellow (Member, Netrights Africa Coalition and the Africa Digital Rights Network – ADRN); KICTANet; Kofi Yeboah, Fellow, Paradigm Initiative; Lukman Mahami Adams, PreciseNews, Ghana; Media Rights Agenda; Nanjala Nyabola, Independent; Olévié Ayaovi KOUAMI, Member of ISOC Sénégal Chapter; Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI); PEN America; Ranking Digital Rights; Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC); Software Freedom Law Center, India; Susan Atim, Member ISOC Uganda Chapter; TechSocietal; TOR Project; Witness Africa and Zaina Foundation, Tanzania, also joined the CSO coalition.