Federal Government Announces Lifting of Ban on Twitter Operations in Nigeria

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The Federal Government of Nigeria has announced the lifting of the June 4, 2021 indefinite suspension it placed on Twitter operations in Nigeria. The lifting of the suspension took effect from 12.00AM on January 13, 2022, making it 222 days of blockage of citizens’ access to the microblogging website.

The lifting of the ban was announced through a press statement issued on January 12, 2022, signed by Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, Chairman Technical Committee Nigeria-Twitter Engagement and Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

Kashifu, in the statement said President Muhammadu Buhari approved the lifting of the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria following a memo written to him by the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Ali Ibrahim, in which the Minister updated and requested the President’s approval for the lifting based on the Technical Committee Nigeria-Twitter Engagement’s recommendation.

The NITDA Director General said the process of resolving the impasse between the FGN and Twitter Inc. has helped to lay a foundation for a mutually beneficial future with endless possibilities pointing out that Twitter is a platform of choice for many Nigerians ranging from young innovators to public sector officials who find it helpful to engage their audience.

He said Nigeria’s engagement will help Twitter improve and develop more business models to cover a broader area in Nigeria and that the Federal Government of Nigeria “looks forward to providing a conducive environment for Twitter and other global tech companies to achieve their potential and be sustainably profitable in Nigeria.”

The statement said the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) asked Twitter to fulfil some conditions before restoring its services, saying: “These conditions addressed legal registration of operations, taxation, and managing prohibited publication in line with Nigerian laws. Twitter has agreed to meet all the conditions set by the FGN. Consequently, the FGN and Twitter have decided on an execution timeline, which has started this week.”

Kashifu said Nigeria’s engagement with Twitter opens a new chapter in global digital diplomacy and sets a new operational template for Twitter to come back stronger for the benefit of Nigerians.

The statement said the FGN is happy to say that the gains made from this shared national sacrifice are immeasurable and listed some of the gains to include: ongoing economic and training opportunities as the Company continues to consider expanding its presence in Nigeria; getting a better understanding of how to use the Twitter platform effectively to improve businesses; revenue generation from the operation of Twitter in Nigeria; smooth and coordinated relationship between Nigerian Government and Twitter leading to mutual trust; reduction of cybercriminal activities such as terrorism, cyberstalking, hate speech, etc.; and working with Twitter and other global companies to build an acceptable code of conduct following global best practice.

Listing the resolutions agreed with Twitter Inc., Kashifu disclosed that Twitter has committed to establishing a legal entity in Nigeria during the first quarter of 2022 by registering with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as Twitter’s first step in demonstrating its long-term commitment to Nigeria. He added that the microblogging site has also has agreed to appoint a designated country representative to interface with Nigerian authorities and to comply with applicable tax obligations on its operations under Nigerian law.

NITDA DG added that Twitter has agreed to enroll Nigeria in its Partner Support and Law Enforcement Portals that provides a direct channel for government officials and Twitter staff to manage prohibited content that violates Twitter community rules. At the same time, the Law Enforcement Portal provides a channel for the law enforcement agencies to submit a report with a legal justification where it suspects that content violates Nigerian Laws. Taken together, these represent a comprehensive compliance apparatus.

He said Twitter has also agreed to act with a respectful acknowledgement of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history on which such legislation has been built and work with the FGN and the broader industry to develop a Code of Conduct in line with global best practices, applicable in almost all developed countries.

Following the ban, several groups and individuals had gone to court to challenge government’s action claiming it violates their rights to freedom of expression and to impart and receive information.

Among the suits that went to court, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), International Press Centre (IPC), Tap Initiative for Citizens Development (TICD) as well as some journalists: David Hundeyin, Samuel Ogundipe, Blessing Oladunjoye, and Nwakamri Apollo dragged the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, Abuja on June 21, 2021. The court consolidated this case with 3 other similar suits (SERAP). ECOWAS Community Court fixed judgement for January 20, 2022 in this case.

PIN also sued the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), and FGN. Filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja, PIN sought a declaration that the Twitter ban is a violation of freedom of expression, an order that the ban be lifted and an injunction to prevent the agents of the Federal Government from arresting, prosecuting or taking any action on those using Twitter. The matter was adjourned to January 17, 2022

In another case, Enough is Enough (EiE), PIN and MRA sued four telecommunication firms: MTN, Airtel, Globacom and 9Mobile, asking the Federal High Court in Abuja for a declaration that their blockage of Twitter access was unlawful, unconstitutional and against the rights to freedom of expression and an injunction restraining them from blocking or interfering with Twitter and any other social media platform.

No date had been fixed for the hearing of the suit before the ban was lifted.