A genuine democrat should be sensitive to any attempt by the authorities to muscle the media. Media should neither be gagged nor censored to enable citizens ventilate their views, express their opinions and hold governments accountable. Conversely too, the media must be held accountable to its actions and be responsible in the discharge of its duty as an unbiased arbiter between the government and the citizens.
As the Fourth Estate of the Realm, media should be seen to be unbiased, objective and balanced in its reportage. In the recent brouhaha between Twitter and the Nigerian government, if the government is accused of censorship, Twitter, a social media handle, is equally guilty of similar offence for censoring the president who was warning the anarchists to refrain from violence and violent attacks. More so, Twitter itself has been unable to justify violence in President Buhari’s speech.
While not taking it away from Twitter to implement its rule on violation, the micro blogging site has an herculean task to justify its action and convince the world that it acted rightly and objectively rather than wrongly and subjectively.
For instance, Facebook says it deleted the post from President Muhammadu Buhari’s page for violating its ‘Community Standards’ against inciting violence but many wondered why the same Facebook never deleted any of the divisive and secessionist posts by Nnamdi Kanu and the #EndSARS anarchists.
Many objective observers have consequently termed the Twitter action as ‘social media hypocrisy’. For instance, during the #EndSARS protests, under the guise of promoting democracy and free speech, the arsonists and the murderers weren’t only supported by Twitter by allowing the use of its platform to spread falsehood unhindered, Jack Dorsey himself even donated to the anarchists.
Just as Twitter unrepentantantly allowed its platform to spread lies, misinform people, spread fake news and circulate fake pictures to instigate the burning down of critical infrastructures in Lagos. It has also unconscionably allowed Nnamdi Kanu to use its platform to promote violence in the Southeast and Southsouth geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Though it acknowledged that the pictures used during the #EndSARS protests were fake, it never apologised to Nigeria despite the pains inflicted on the country and in spite of protests by Nigerians, particularly from the Minister of Information.
Facebook has thus become Nnamdi Kanu’s Command and Control Centre, presenting unabashed, live, raw, real time feeds, giving instructions for killings, arson and murder of police, soldiers, breaking of prisons, burning of INEC and immigration offices, police stations, looting of armoury et al., and receiving live, real time feedbacks and request for subsequent instructions from his foot soldiers undiscretely, with social media handles doing absolutely nothing to the agents of violence.
Nnamdi Kanu’s ‘boys’ – IPOBians have been wreaking havoc on state institutions and murdering people with reckless abandon, undermining Nigeria’s security in the process. Invariably, Facebook and Twitter have thus become the tool by which Nnamdi Kanu spread his hate speech, with his brazen, audacious, genocidal and destructive directives and which have been executed, yet, the ‘community rules’ have never applied to him.
Interestingly, bodies like Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have threatened to take the Federal Government to court. Nigerians, in fact, the whole world is waiting to see the actualisation of their threats, after all, the court is there for all and the global juducial system would be further enriched.
The world earnestly waits on Twitter to come out with its investigation and findings as promised. Reacting to the development, Twitter expressed “deep concern” over the federal government’s decision to suspend its operations in Nigeria. Sarah Hart, Twitter’s Senior Policy Communications Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa said in a statement that the company is investigating the development, saying, “The announcement made by the Nigerian Government that they have suspended Twitter’s operations in Nigeria is deeply concerning. We’re investigating and will provide updates when we know more,” the statement said.
It will be recalled that Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said the government was forced to act because of “the persistent use of the (Twitter) platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
Many people, including Govermor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State have made a case for the youths and many institutions who survive on the micro blogging site or whose business survival largely depend on the social media handle. Yes, we all know Twitter is useful but must Nigeria indulge Twitter when it is obvious that the platform is being used by unscrupulous elements for subversive activities, particularly when Twitter itself has become hypocritical, speaking from both sides of its mouth. Must Nigeria wait till another unfortunate Lagos episode is reenacted?
Even if we agree without conceding that President Buhari’s statement was inflammatory, what about much worse, countless inflammatory statements Nnamdi Kanu has made in the past, promoting murder and arson? Must FG be forced to suspend Twitter before it does its job? Doesn’t Twitter have its rules at all? FB or Twitter sometimes will automatically take down any post, even without complain from any quarter once the rules are violated.
Justification on celebrities’ complaints
Some have explained and justified the removal of President Buhari’s tweet on the basis of the fact that Twitter acted on the complaints by the ‘celebrities’ but that Nigeria didn’t complain about Kanu’s inflammatory statements. That is lame and untrue. The Federal Government has complained severally. The best that was done by Twitter during the unfortunate #EndSARS carnage and destruction was to confirm that most of the pictures used to instigate the carnage and the razing of Lagos were false. Did Twitter suspend any of the subversive celebrities?
A critical look at the president’s tweet will expose Twitter’s double standard and jolt any right thinking, critically minded person and make him or her to wonder what was wrong with the statement. The president’s post reads: “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Biafra war. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,”. How that violated the rule remains a mystery.
Again, comparing former US president Donald Trump’s statement with what President Buhari tweeted as some have frantically tried to do is like comparing apples with mangoes. While Trump called to anarchy and civil disobedience, Buhari did the exact opposite, warning the anarchists and the outlawed separatist group of the consequences of their actions. Perhaps, Twitter has its exclusive definition of what constitutes an incitement to violence.
Subsequently, a social commentator, Yusuf Jimoh Aweda asked to know how the President’s statement broke the rules. In his words:
“But in true honesty, how on earth does the President’s twitter post violate any rubbish policy twitter is hiding behind? May be there is a Twitter English that we all need to understand to justify the vindictive deletion of the post. It is a clear madness from Twitter. And they need to be put in their place.”
“The clear truth is, Twitter didn’t support destruction nor meddle into direct opposition of the Government of the US that would eventually lead them to war, jiggle their sovereignty or drown them in diabolical anarchy.
“As small as Tanzania is, they control Twitter and strictly monitors their involvement in their political endeavours. Why didn’t the bellicose micro blogging site give voice to the invaders of Capitol Hill by funding, give special Twitter hashtag and encourage them to destroy the vestige of the US biased democracy in the name of freedom of speech ?
Business interest vs National interest
For the avoidance of doubt, Twitter is a business concern that operates to earn profits and it is only protecting its business interest as well as the interest of its tweeps who mischievously commissioned themselves and vindictively protested to Twitter en masse against the president’s speech.
On this development, Aweda asked rhetorically, “can you all technically allow a foreign “tenant” who only has its office signboard pointing to another address where other family members benefit from his business meddle in your family’s affairs, turn your family members against you, support raising arms against you to destroy your only building and also shut you up anytime you try to explain yourself and threatens to seal your mouth from talking if you challenge such insane superciliousness?”
Another observer asked whether Twitter has treated Nigeria with respect that is due to a large and strategically country of her status? He observed that, “Twitter has about 40 million subscribers in Nigeria, but choses to open office and pay tax to Ghana with less than 5million subscribers. Now Jack Dorsey is set to lose an estimated $11 Billion worth of market value from the country he passed as insignificant.
“Twitter owner, Jack, gives unfettered rein to terrorists and insurgents to push out contents of violence that destabilizes Nigeria but tries to censor the President of the most populous black nation on earth for purportedly threatening criminals known to have perpetrated the killing of innocent Nigerians and destroying state owned facilities.
“Jack actively sponsors and aid anything akin to disorder in Nigeria in the name of democracy (where everyone can do anyhow) but in his country (USA) he bans all identified protesters on Twitter who sought to access the Capitol, (his country’s National Assembly) and called them terrorist, insurrectionist etc.
“Let Twitter apply for license (from the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation) to operate in Nigeria officially as they do in Europe and America. Open office in Imo State, then employ Nigerians and pay 15% tax to Nigeria from his Nigerian revenue, as he does to US, Europe and soon for Ghana. Basically, Jack and his Twitter should have physical investment in Nigeria and become a stakeholder and then we will see if he will continue to allow terrorists to use his platform to propagate violence.
“To Nigerians, when your country is set ablaze you won’t have money to buy phone or data to access Twitter account. We will survive without Twitter for now, let others take a cue, CNN, Facebook and some local media platforms.
“This is also an opportunity for Africans to demand for their fair share from these Big Tech Corporations moving Billions of dollars from Africa to develop their own countries without paying Tax to the source. Nigeria first”, he concluded.
Nigeria not a zoo
Meanwhile, Nigeria needs to prove to Twitter that the country is neither a zoo as the fugitive Nnamdi Kanu probably made Twitter to believe. It must be asserted that Nigeria is neither a banana republic nor a lawless society where anything goes. Rather, it is governed by rules, a constitution and a democratically elected president.
Undoubtedly, Twitter has promoted the proscribed terrorist group, IPOB, over and above Nigeria’s national interest and no responsible government such as Nigeria’s will fold its arms and allow a private business concern to side with a separatist group and promote violence within its territorial integrity before it acts within its power to prevent a break down of law and order. It will definitely signal the peak of irresponsibility for the Nigerian goverment to allow Twitter to facilitate another #EndSARS saga before it acts.
Justifying the suspension, in a state house release by the president’s spokesperson, Mr Garba Shehu explained that, “the temporary suspension of Twitter is not just a response to the removal of the President’s post. 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. All the while, the company has escaped accountability.
“Nevertheless, the removal of President Buhari’s tweet was disappointing. The censoring seemed based on a misunderstanding of the challenges Nigeria faces today or an attempt to exacerbate an already challenging situation.
“Major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities. They cannot be allowed to continue to facilitate the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages capable of inciting whole communities against each other, leading to loss of many lives. This could tear some countries apart.
“President Buhari has therefore been warning against social media’s disruptive and divisive influences and the government’s action is not a knee-jerk reaction to Twitter’s preposterous deletion of his tweet which should have been read in full.
“The tweet was not a threat, but a statement of fact. A terrorist organisation (IPOB) poses a significant threat to the safety and security of Nigerian citizens.
“When the President said that they will be treated “in a language they understand,” he merely reiterated that their force shall be met with force. It is a basic principle of security services response world over. This is not promotion of hate, but a pledge to uphold citizens’ right to freedom from harm. The government cannot be expected to capitulate to terrorists.”
Garba Shehu further explained that IPOB was proscribed under Nigerian law. Saying its members murder innocent Nigerians, kill policemen and set government property on fire and have amassed a substantial stockpile of weapons and bombs across the country.
He added that Twitter does not seem to appreciate the national trauma of Nigeria’s civil war fought in the 60s, and that the government shall not allow a recurrence of the tragedy.
In view of the president’s release, Aweda warned Nigerians to be wary of submitting themselves to Electronic ReColonization (ERC) and Electronic Mental Military Occupation (EMMO) of those who have already criminally stolen their identity, data and privacy for business purpose to nourish their corporation to undermine Nigeria in return.
A Sustainable Development Strategist, Babatunde Ajose remarked that even if Nigerians believed the government has failed to deliver, they cannot afford to lose a country because a government failed? “Buhari will leave in 2023 but the damages we’re doing to our country will hunt us in decades to come. Is it not possible to see this country beyond Buhari and rally round our God’s given land or have we gotten any other place we want to pass to our children unborn?, he questioned.
Ajose asked Nigerians to also remember that there can only be a citizenship rights if there’s a country, just as we all have the obligation to collectively protect our country from Tech Giants and multinationals whose dominant interest is to make maximum profits and prioritise their interest above national security.
So, as the world looks forward to the resolution of the crisis, it’s believed that the development will consequently lead to mutual respect that will result to peace, security in Nigeria on one hand, as well as a harmonious relationship between the African giant and the social media platform on the other.
Elder Yinka Salaam is a journalist. He writes from Osogbo, Southwest Nigeria