Twitter Blocks and Bans in Nigeria

Twitter Blocks and Bans in Nigeria

June 7, 2021

In a telling display of social media arrogance, Twitter deleted a post by Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari after his broadcast of a public warning directed at his opponents. Buhari's Islamist regime responded to the Twitter block by banning the use of Twitter throughout Nigeria. And the president's henchmen have since broadcast threats against media outlets that ignore the ban's demands. Information Minister Lai Mohammed claimed that the government had acted because of "the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria's corporate existence."

BBC reported that Buhari's blocked tweet warned: "Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand."

Twitter responded (in the language they understand) by saying that Buhari's post "was in violation of the 'Twitter Rules.' The account owner will be required to delete the violative Tweet and spend 12 hours with their account in read-only mode."

The Nigerian president's account had also re-tweeted a video which included the threat, "Whoever wants the destruction of the system will soon have the shock of their lives. We've given them enough time... we will treat them in the language they understand."

"The system" to which Buhari referred has long been a subject of deep concern to FRC's international religious freedom focus because of violent attacks on Christian communities, churches and clergy. So severe have these attacks been that the likelihood of genocide against Nigeria's Christians has been raised in international circles for several years. At the same time, just last week, the publication Foreign Policy declared Nigeria a "failed state."

The president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, is widely viewed as complicit in the anti-Christian violence, and was even confronted about the carnage of his country's Christians by President Donald Trump.

Nigerian citizens face uncontrolled kidnapping, rape and murder at the hands of terrorist organizations in several states, vigilantes, and a separatist movement in the Biafra region. Unsurprisingly, President Buhari is well aware of his vulnerability, and has threatened those who oppose him with a thinly veiled message of impending violence.

But was Twitter's blockage of his words a wise move?

The suspension of President Donald Trump's accounts on Twitter and Facebook have powerfully underscored those platforms' strong-armed intrusion into American politics. But equally alarming is their ill-informed interference in international hotspots and the unintended consequences that are likely to result.

In this case, the retaliatory banning of Twitter by Buhari's regime may well endanger Christian leaders and communities even further in Nigeria. More than a few rely on social media communication to alert one another of impending danger, seek protection and emergency help, or report atrocities.

In reality, President Muhammadu Buhari is the leader of a country that is rapidly becoming a failed state, and is likely complicit in at least some of the ongoing violence. However, Twitter's decision to censor Buhari -- resulting in his government's backlash in banning Twitter -- will only further endanger communities who are already at grave risk.

As for Nigeria's unbridled terror groups -- Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), Boko Haram and radical Fulani tribesmen -- who increasingly attack Christians, USCIRF will hold an important hearing on Wednesday, June 9 in response to Nigeria's worsening conditions. The issue in question is, "How can the U.S. government encourage and support Nigeria in addressing impunity for extremist violence?"

There is much to be urgently discussed. But the answer to this question will clearly not be resolved by the ill-conceived meddling of social media.