The envoys of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, the Republic of Ireland and the European Union in Nigeria, have maintained that the suspension of Twitter in the West African nation is a violation of freedom of expression.
The ambassadors stated this at a meeting with the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in Abuja on Monday.
The minister had invited the ambassadors to the meeting over their recent comments on the suspension of the microblogging site in Nigeria.
Recall that in a joint statement on Saturday, Canada, EU, UK, US, and the Republic of Ireland said banning systems of expression is not the way forward.
The statement partly read, “The diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America convey our disappointment over the Government of Nigeria’s announcement suspending #Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media.
“We strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline.
“Banning systems of expression is not the answer. These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Speaking on behalf of the five envoys at a closed-door meeting with Onyeama on Monday, US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, insisted that the earlier position of the five ambassadors that the ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government violates freedom of expression of Nigerians irrespective of the concerns by the government that the platform was being used to perpetrate hate speech and criminality.
“We recognise the official position of the Nigerian government on the responsible use of social media but we remain firm in our position that free access to information is very important and perhaps more important during troubled times,” she said.
“We are here as partners and we want to see Nigeria succeed. It’s very clear that we are Nigeria’s strongest partners on issues of security and we recognise the daunting times in the way of the security challenges that confront Nigeria. While they are daunting, they are not insurmountable and part of the way to surmount them is the partnership of the people you see represented here,” Leonard added.
The envoys were hopeful of the Federal government reaching a common ground as it was locked in discussions with Twitter.
Onyeama also confirmed that the Nigerian government was in dialogue with Twitter on the best ways to resolve the matter.
The minister told the envoys that the Nigerian government is not against the use of social media but want to see it used for global good and responsible communications.
He said, “We know the power of words and when you have that kind of power to manage and facilitate communication to billion of people; it has to come with responsibility. So, we are taking this measure to see to what extent we can rebalance this media as forces of good and stop them being used as a platform for destabilization and facilitation of criminality.”
The feud started when Twitter had deleted a controversial civil war post by the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. The government subsequently banned the platform, citing the “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
Though mobile operators have blocked their customers in the country from using Twitter, many Nigerians have switched to the use of Virtual Private Networks to bypass the blockage.
Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, then ordered the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation to prosecute offenders contravening the government’s Twitter ban.