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Nigerian minister expands social media ban

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It looks like the Nigerian government is a long way from forgiving Twitter, a week on from banning the social platform.

The minister of information, Lai Mohammed, has announced new rules for social media in the country, according to Reuters.

"We are insisting that for you to operate in Nigeria you must first be a Nigerian company and be licensed by the broadcasting commission," said Mohammed, adding that further conditions would be attached to permission to operate, while giving no details of what those would be.

This is a problem not only for Twitter, but for all the other social media services with an audience in Nigeria and anyone likely to publish something critical of the Nigerian government.

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp remain unaffected by the ban but the minister did not indicate whether they would need a license.

No dates have been given for the move, and no more details have been forthcoming.

Mightier than the sword

The row started when the platform removed a tweet by the president, Muhammadu Buhari. Referring to the civil war which ended 40 years ago, Buhari made a thinly veiled threat toward would-be secessionists in the south of the country.

The administration responded by claiming Twitter was endangering their "corporate existence" by allowing "misinformation and fake news to spread." The ban was issued and Nigeria's telcos blocked the platform from their networks.

Reuters reports this is part of "a broader crackdown on freedom of expression in Africa's most populous country that has drawn comparisons to Nigeria's decades of military rule in the 20th century."

Which, given Buhari is a former military ruler, may not be that surprising.

Strange bedfellows

The news comes just after former US President Donald Trump issued a statement praising the Nigerian leader's ban.

"Congratulations to the country of Nigeria, who just banned Twitter because they banned their president ... Who are they to dictate good and evil, if they themselves are evil?" he said.

Trump went on to encourage action against the big social media giants by other countries for not allowing "free and open speech."

His reaction may not be entirely impartial. The former president not only had tweets removed, but was ultimately banned by Twitter and Facebook following incendiary posts that many believe fueled the US Capitol riot in January 2021.

Facebook's oversight board has since decided the ban should last two years.

Stepping back

The Nigerian government has threatened to prosecute anyone found to be posting in defiance of the ban meanwhile human rights organizations have roundly condemned the move.

Twitter has said it is "deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria," calling open Internet access an essential human right in modern society.

"We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world."

The US Embassy in Nigeria has also condemned the ban, saying it sends "a poor message to citizens, investors and businesses."

"Banning social media and curbing every citizen's ability to seek, receive and impart information undermines fundamental freedoms," it said.

"As President Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater. The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, alongside concerted efforts toward unity, peace, and prosperity."

It does seem that the removal of the posts may only be part of the story. In April 2021, Twitter announced it had chosen neighboring Ghana for its first African office.

This was not well received in Nigeria, with Mohammed blaming the media for misrepresenting the country.

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Fiona Graham, Editorial Director, Light Reading

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