Nigeria orders broadcasting media to disregard Twitter as news source

Nigeria’s broadcast regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission, has ordered all broadcasting stations in the country to suspend their use of Twitter. The directive was issued Monday morning, and the broadcasting stations include TV and radio platforms in the country.

“In compliance to the above directive, broadcasting stations are hereby advised to de-install Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source (UGC) of information gathering for news and programmes presentation especially phone-in,” an excerpt of the statement read.

This is coming days after the country suspended Twitter operations when the micro-blogging platform deleted a controversial tweet made by President Muhammadu Buhari wherein he threatened to punish secessionists in the southeastern part of the country. The government also cited the micro-blogging platform’s alleged ploy to “undermine its corporate existence” as one reason for the indefinite suspension.

Alongside this directive was an order to the NBC to “immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.” While that is still a work in progress, Nigerians haven’t been able to use Twitter since the early hours of Saturday as telecom operators in the country restricted access to the platform. Yet, most people have employed VPNs and other alternative platforms to bypass the domain restrictions

However, following Nigerians’ disregard of the government’s order, the country’s attorney general and minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, via his spokesperson, issued a troubling directive over the weekend.

“Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) at the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria,” the statement read.

No public arrests have been made so far. And although it isn’t entirely known how the attorney general and his cohorts will carry out that directive, there are fears that the government will employ illegal means to perform their orders.

In the meantime, there has been widespread criticism of the Twitter ban, both in the country and abroad. In a joint statement with the EU, the U.S., Canada and the U.K. expressed disappointment in the ban. They called out the Buhari-led administration for censorship and human right violation and requested that the Nigerian government reconsider its stance.

Yesterday, it appeared as though the government would budge. The president, via his spokesperson, declared that the state-wide ban on Twitter was only a temporary measure to curb misinformation and fake news.

“There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real-world violent consequences,” the government said. The platform allowed “the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages that could tear some countries apart”, the spokesperson added.

But with today’s directive, the government might be speaking out of both sides of its mouth. The statement released referenced section 5.6.3 of the NBC Act to the role it believes Twitter plays in Nigeria. The broadcasting code “requires broadcasters to be mindful of materials that may cause disaffection, incite to panic or rift in the society in the use of a user-generated content (UGC).”

The regulator didn’t forget to leave a subtle warning, stating that it will be unpatriotic for any broadcaster in the country to continue patronising Twitter as a source of information, “therefore strict compliance is enjoined.”