… As FG ropes blogging site into EndSARS crisis
The United States has renewed its condemnation of Nigeria for suspending Twitter’s operations in the country, an action that senior U.S officials said is a sign of restricting political space in Nigeria.
A report on the website of Voice of America (VOA) on Tuesday quoted Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Akunna Cook, as saying during a Monday webinar hosted by the Washington-based Atlantic Council that “the Twitter suspension was very concerning and remains a source of concern.”
Cook, a daughter of Nigerian immigrants, said the country can “play a constructive role” in West Africa but “signs of closing of political space” and signs of restricting free speech are worrisome.
But the Federal government has says that Twitter and its founder, Mr. Jack Dorsey, are “vicariously” liable for the losses the country suffered during the #EndSARS protest.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said Tuesday when he featured on “Politics Nationwide,’’ a Radio Nigeria call-in programme, that the microblogging platform and Dorsey were liable for supporting the #EndSARS protests through fundraising and giving visibility to the campaign.
He also confirmed on the programme that Twitter has formally written to Nigeria seeking dialogue on issues leading to the indefinite suspension of its operations in the country.
Mohammed accused Dorsey of raising funds through Bitcoins to sponsor the #EndSARS protest while Twitter was used to fuel the crisis.
He said when he made the allegations earlier, Nigerians did not take him seriously.
The minister said an independent investigation by an online medium confirmed that Dorsey retweeted some of the posts by some of the coalition groups supporting the #EndSARS protest.
He said it was also confirmed that the Twitter founder asked people to donate to the organisers of the protests via Bitcoins.
The minister said Dorsey launched Emoji to make the EndSARS protest visible on the microblogging site and retweeted the tweets of some foreign and local supporters of EndSARS.
He added: “If you ask people to donate money via Bitcoins for EndSARS protesters, then you are vicariously liable for whatever is the outcome of the protest.
“We have forgotten that EndSARS led to the loss of lives, including 37 policemen, six soldiers, 57 civilians while property worth billions of naira were destroyed.
“One hundred and sixty four police vehicles and 134 police stations were razed to the ground, 265 private corporate organisations were looted while 243 public property were looted.
“Eighty-one warehouses were looted while over 200 brand new buses bought by Lagos State Government were burnt to ashes,’’ he added.
The minister said it was unfair to conclude that the operation of Twitter was suspended indefinitely because it deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet perceived to be threatening violence against people in the South-east.
He restated that the federal government suspended Twitter because the platform was being used to promote the views of those who wanted to destabilise the country.
Mohammed added that Twitter consistently offered its platform to promote agendas that were inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria.
“Twitter has become a platform of choice for a particular separatist promoter.
“The promoter consistently used the platform to direct his loyalists to kill Nigerian soldiers and policemen, run-down INEC offices and destroy all symbols of Nigeria’s sovereignty.
“Every attempt to persuade Twitter to deny its platform to this separatist leader was not taken seriously,’’ he stated.
According to him, the federal government has no apology to offer to those unhappy over the suspension of Twitter’s operations in the country.
He said a country must exist in peace before people could exercise freedom of speech and fight for a source of livelihood.
The minister also confirmed that Twitter has written to seek dialogue on issues leading to the indefinite suspension of its operations.
“I can confirm that Twitter has written to the federal government that they are ready to talk.
“As we have always maintained, the door is not locked and we are open-minded but Twitter must work toward it,” he said.
The minister reiterated the government’s position that it would not tolerate any platform that would be used to destabilise the country.
Mohammed said among other conditions for Twitter to resume operation in Nigeria, there must be an agreement as to what contents it could post.
He said Twitter and other platforms must also register as a Nigerian company, obtain a licence from the National Broadcasting Commission(NBC) and be guided by the rules of the licensing as well as pay taxes.
According to him, regulation of social media platforms is becoming a global practice.
He said most countries were just waking up to the fact that the platforms were becoming more powerful than even government and needed to be regulated.
“Singapore, Algeria, Pakistan, Turkey regulate social media, Australia has done so.
”Even EU that does not have particular laws on social media has made recommendations in a white paper,” he added.
The minister said the UK initiated a new law, which would make social media companies to be fined up to £18 million (about N10.8 billion) if they failed to stamp out online abuses.
He said Google was fined € (about N110 billion) on June 7 by French Competition Regulator for abusing its dominance in the online advertising market in France.
Also, Pakistan has approved a new set of rules to regulate social media.
In the rules, according to the minister, companies such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even TikTok are to register and open offices in Pakistan.
He said in compliance with the new online broadcasting rule of Turkey, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video had obtained licences from that country’s broadcasting authority.
Mohammed stated that regulation of social media was not synonymous with stifling press freedom.
“We must not confuse press freedom with irresponsibility.
“How can you stay in your country and allow your own platform to be used to propagate war in another country?
“The suspension of Twitter is to ensure that no particular platform is used to cause war in Nigeria.
“Secondly, to ensure that whoever is making money in Nigeria must be made to pay tax.
“Our appeal to Nigerians is that they should understand where we are coming from.
“We have no intention to stifle people’s freedom or to cut off the source of livelihood of anybody.
“There must be a country devoid of war before we can talk of freedom and a source of living,’’ he said.
The federal government had on June 4 suspended indefinitely the operations of the microblogging and social networking service in Nigeria.