Major media houses have complied with Nigerian government’s illegal Twitter ban despite an order of the ECOWAS Court of Justice shielding them from sanctions, checks by PREMIUM TIMES have shown.
Twitter was banned by the Nigerian by the federal government on June 4, two days after a controversial tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari was taken down from the platform.
The government cited “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”, as reason for its action.
The ban took effect almost immediately with the government directing network providers to block access to Twitter.
On June 6, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), directed broadcasters to suspend “patronage” of the platform.
It described its further use by the broadcast stations as “unpatriotic.”
Media and human rights advocates condemned the NBC’s directive calling it “illegal” and an attack on press freedom.
The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja also issued an order restraining the government from sanctioning, prosecuting or harassing Nigerians and media houses for using Twitter.
In its judgment delivered on June 22, the ECOWAS Court in Abuja, “restrained the government and its agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter and/or any other social media service provider(s), media houses, radio and television broadcast stations, the plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
Broadcast stations stay off Twitter
Over three weeks after the ECOWAS Court’s protective order prohibiting the government from taking action against them, checks by PREMIUM TIMES show that most broadcast stations have stopped tweeting in obedience to the ban.
The ARISE TV appears to still be tweeting in defiance to the ban, but its managing director, Ijeoma Nwaogwugwu, explained that the station’s active presence on Twitter “is due to the fact the tweets are posted outside Nigeria”.
“Our Nigerian offices have complied with the order, but our foreign offices aren’t bound by the ban, that’s why ARISE TV remains active on Twitter,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Our social media team continues to tweet from London, Washington and Johannesburg so to that extent, this hasn’t affected our operations.
“But I can imagine how it’s affecting our other colleagues and we hope the government will reconsider this suspension.”
Other popular stations that have since complied with the order include: Channels TV, African Independent Television (AIT), and Television Continental (TVC).
Their official twitter accounts show that the stations have complied with the government’s order as they had stopped tweeting since June 4, the day authorities announced the suspension.
Popular radio stations like Cool FM and Wazobia FM, also stopped tweeting on June 5.
Some of the stations have, however, expressed their dismay with the decision.
“We believe the notice by NBC goes against these laws,” Radio Now, a Lagos-based radio station said in a statement. “We will, under duress, comply with the directive of the commission while consulting with our lawyers on the legality of this directive.”
Newspapers still tweet except The Nation
On the other hand, major newspapers in the country have disregarded the ban and have continued tweeting using Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications to bypass restrictions to Twitter, except The Nation newspaper that last tweeted on June 5.
Nigerian newspapers had condemned the ban when first issued.
For instance, in its editorial piece, PREMIUM TIMES said the ban constitutes a “gross abuse of office and grave violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as it elevates the personal interest of the President above that of the country and her citizens.
“No regime has succeeded in silencing the voices of Nigerians because we have not allowed it. This regime too will fail in this scandalous attempt to deprive us of our rights,” the newspaper added.
Meawhile, the Twitter ban has turned out to be a test run in the government’s apparent move to censor the media and free speech.
There are two proposed legislations: the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act amendment bills which seek to curtail the activities of the media.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the front banners of major newspapers in Nigeria on Monday bore a picture of an individual with a sealed mouth, a depiction of the unrelenting efforts by the authorities of control the media and curb freedom of expression.
“Information Blackout. It’s not just against the media….it’s about society’s right to know, your right to be heard,” the front page advertorials read.