Twitter ban: US, UK, EU, others insist on freedom of access, despite Nigerian govt plea for understanding

The governments of United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland and the European Union Delegation in Nigeria on Monday said their position remains unchanged over  last Friday’s decision by the Federal Government to ban indefinitely the use of  microblogging social media, Twitter  in Nigeria.
On Sunday, the diplomatic missions of the four countries, along with the EU Delegation in Nigeria, condemned in strong terms the action of the government, while supporting fundamental human right od free expression and access to information.
“We strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline. Banning systems of expression is not the answer.
“These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less, communication to accompany the concerted efforts of Nigeria’s citizens in fulsome dialogue toward unity, peace and prosperity”, the Missions said in a joint statement.
In a reaction, the Federal Government on Monday met with the Heads of the Mission and the EU delegarion to seek their understanding over its action on the matter.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama who met with the Ambassadors of the four countries and EU Delegation said the government was concerned over the reaction of friends and allies over twitter ban in the country.
But, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth-Leonard who led the team to the meeting said the position of their governments on the issue remained unchanged on respect to free access and fundamental right.
“First of all, I will say that we recognize there are issues of responsible use of social media. But we remain firm on our position that free access and ability to express one’s self is actually very important, perhaps on one part, but also at trouble times,” Beth-Leonard said.
While advising the Nigerian government to identify those who commit crimes and use judicial processes to deal with offenders, she said to constrain is not the best behaviour.
The envoys said they were happy to learn that Nigeria was already interacting with Twitter on the crisis on the way forward.
On the challenges confronting the country, Beth-Leonard said the countries in their joint statement on Sunday were very clear on their relationship with Nigeria as strong partners.
“We recognise the daunting times in the area of security challenges that confronts Nigeria. The challenges are daunting, but are not insurmountable. And part of the way to surmount them is through partnership,” she said.
Onyeama who said the meeting was called to clarify the issues raised in the joint statement by the five countries said all that the government was asking them to do was to support it confront all these challenges, even as it listened to their opinions.
“The message the government wants to send out is: “keep an eye on the main objective of this government. You were all aware when Mr. President was elected, security was number one on the list of his priority and it is something he really wants to deliver for the people of Nigeria.
“Without security, everything else fails. Investment will not come, and lives will be displaced. We will just be a vicious cycle.
“What we have done today, will really define the future of the country. That is why Mr. President is absolutely determined that security has been made and Nigerians have to live in peace and security. That we have to keep our country together. We listened to each other and clarified some areas,” the Minister said.
He however said the government was already in discussion with Twitter over the ban.
“As you yourself have said, discussions are ongoing with Twitter. We want to see how that progresses. So, I cannot say for now the duration of the suspension. There are conversations with our partners and with social media,” he said.
The government, Onyeama noted, does not have anything against social media, pointing out that what it was doing was to ensure the social media was put to good use.
“We want to use social media for good. There is a lot of good that can come out of this communication revolution that we have in the world today. A lot of very good things, and we want as much as possible as a government that this media should be used for good, and I think part of the communication with them we be really towards how to get them really as forces for global good.
“The basic condition is really responsible communication. We know the power of words and power of words for good and power of words for bad. You know when you have that kind of power to manage and facilitate the communication of billions of people around the world; it has to come with responsibilities. Absolutely, it has to come with responsibilities. So, the condition will be responsible use of media and that really has to be adhered to,” he said.

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