All social media companies operating within Nigeria need to acquire a license before working in the West African country, the Nigerian government announced on Wednesday.
Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, told a news conference that he had directed the regulatory agency National Communications Commission (NCC) to license all over-the-top (OTT) and social media operations.
He made the declaration a week after a standoff between the government and Twitter erupted over the erasure of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet.
Buhari had threatened to deal with those destroying government facilities and assassinating security operatives ‘in the language they understand’ about the Nigerian civil war, which lasted from 1967 to 1970 and resulted in the deaths of over three million citizens, primarily from the southeast region.
Many Nigerians interpreted Buhari’s remark as a threat of genocide directed at residents of the southeast region and demanded that the president’s Twitter account be suspended.
Their appeals failed, but Twitter stated that the tweet violated its policy against ‘abusive behaviour.’ Twitter removed the President’s comment 12 hours after he tweeted it.
Concerned by Twitter’s action, Nigeria’s government announced an indefinite ban on the social media giant. It accused Twitter of assisting in destroying private and public property during the #EndSARS protest against police brutality in October 2020.
“Twitter may have its own rules, it’s not the universal rule. If Mr President, anywhere in the world, feels very bad and concern about a situation, he is free to express such views,” Mohammed said in reaction to Buhari’s deleted tweet.”
“We have a country to rule, and we will do so to the best of our ability. Twitter’s mission in Nigeria is very suspect, they have an agenda.”
Nigerians continue to use Twitter via virtual private networks (VPNs), but at the risk of prosecution, according to Nigeria’s attorney general Abubakar Malami, who is being challenged on Twitter by thousands using the hashtag #MalamiSueMe.
The rights group SERAP and over 170 civil society organisations have filed a lawsuit against the government alleging human rights violations.
However, the authorities maintain that Nigerians have the right to free expression on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms.