Telecoms operators in Nigeria have restricted access to Twitter, a day after the government announced its indefinite suspension for activities “capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
The suspension in Africa’s most populous country came two days after the social media giant deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari’s account for violating its rules.
“The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria,” ministry of information and culture spokesman Segun Adeyemi said in a statement on Friday.
The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) confirmed its members had received formal instructions from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the industry regulator, to suspend access to Twitter.
It said in a statement that a robust assessment of the request had been made and that members had “acted in compliance”.
“Network data show that access to the Twitter platform and backend servers is now restricted on leading networks MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile,” the London-based internet monitor Netblocks wrote on its website on Saturday.
Twitter said that the move was “deeply concerning”.
“We’re investigating and will provide updates when we know more,” the company said in a statement.
The news prompted an immediate backlash among social media users, as well as among human rights activists.
Aisha Yesufu, a Nigerian political activist and co-founder of the #BringBackOurGirls, an online campaign that played a key role in raising awareness over the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in 2014, said the government has long been looking for a chance to close the platform where people highlighted its faults.
“Twitter has been the voice of the people in Nigeria … It is actually where we held the government accountable,” Yesufu told Al Jazeera.
“This is one of the reason why the government has been constantly been looking for a way to shut down the internet as well as all the social sites where Nigerians have been able to meet and discuss,” she added.
Amnesty International on Friday also condemned the move, calling on Nigeria to “immediately reverse the unlawful suspension”.
“This repressive action is a clear attempt to censor dissent & stifle the civic space,” Human Rights Watch researcher Anietie Ewang said.
Amnesty International condemns the Nigerian government’s suspension of Twitter @Twitter in #Nigeria🇳🇬 — a social media widely used by Nigerians to exercise their human rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information. #TwitterBan
— Amnesty International Nigeria (@AmnestyNigeria) June 4, 2021
In 2019, Nigeria had announced it would tighten regulations on social media to fight fake news and disinformation, sparking concerns over freedom of expression.
Twitter on Wednesday deleted a remark on the president’s account after he referred to the country’s civil war in a warning about recent unrest in the southeast.
The 78-year-old president, a former general, referred to “those misbehaving” in recent violence in the southeast, where officials blame separatists for attacks on police and election offices.
“Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” the president had posted on Twitter.
Several countries including China and Turkey have come under fire for putting restrictions on social media platforms such as Twitter.
In February, Twitter condemned Myanmar for blocking access to its platform as part of a crackdown on social media, days after a coup that saw Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders jailed.