Twitter has removed a post by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari threatening punishment for regional secessionists blamed for attacks on government buildings.
The move on Wednesday came as Buhari’s tweet, referring to a civil war in the southeastern Biafra region, violated the social media company’s abusive behaviour policy, leading to a 12-hour suspension of his account.
The two-and-a-half-year conflict started in 1967 and more than one million people died from fighting, disease and starvation.
Buhari, who served in the army against the secessionists and was Nigeria’s military ruler in the 1980s, tweeted on Tuesday that many people misbehaving today were too young to remember the deaths and destruction from the civil war.
“Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” he warned in the tweet that was taken down.
Nigeria has seen a spate of arson attacks on electoral offices and police stations in recent weeks, especially in the southeast. Officers have also been killed.
Authorities have blamed a banned separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and what police call its armed wing, the Eastern Security Network. The IPOB has repeatedly denied involvement.
Some social media users criticised Buhari’s tweet before it was removed, accusing him of targeting Igbo people from the largest ethnic group in the southeast. IPOB is influential in the region and its efforts to revive sentiments over Biafra have prompted a crackdown from security agencies in recent years.
Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed was dismissive of Twitter’s action, saying Buhari had every right to express dismay at violence by a banned organisation.
“Twitter may have its own rules, it’s not the universal rule,” he told reporters. “If Mr president anywhere in the world feels very bad and concerned about a situation, he is free to express such views.”
In the latest attack in early May, gunmen killed at least seven Nigerian police officers in the southern oil hub of Rivers State amid a deteriorating security situation in the region. In June, Rivers State banned people from crossing its borders at night in a bid to stop the killings of police, customs officers, civil defence officers and soldiers.
A deteriorating security situation is also unfolding in the north of the country where, since December, bandits have kidnapped more than 700 people from schools and armed groups have killed many soldiers and civilians.