By Gift Chapi Odekina
The Federal Government of Nigeria has insisted that its suspension of social media platform, Twitter will be in force until the organisation is registered in Nigeria, as well obtain license to operate in the country.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who made the disclosure before the House of Representatives joint Committee on Information, Justice and Communication on Tuesday, also vowed to sanction any other social media platform, if they are found wanting in similar manner.
Informing the panel which is investigating the decision of the government to ban the platform, the Minister said “the suspension was because Twitter has made its platform a choice for people who want to destabilise Nigeria. We want Twitter to be registered first in the country before they can operate”.
He also denied the widely held opinion that the move was intended to gag free speech “There was no intention of the federal government to stifle free speech in the country. The only reason we suspended Twitter is because it was promoting disunity. Its activities are inimical to the unity of the country”, Mohammed insisted.
According to the minister, the government “discovered 476 online platforms devoted to bring down this country (Nigeria). They are always faster than us (government), so the only way out is to regulate them”, adding that the move was not peculiar to Nigeria, naming Australia and Singapore among countries where regulation of the social media space were in place.
Responding to a question on whether the move was not directed at certain groups, coming at this time, the minister said the current government’s bid to rid Nigeria of fake news began in 2017, explaining that there have been instances where the government approached Twitter to take down certain posts which were not in the interest of Nigeria to no avail.
The minister also cautioned Nigerians using the Virtual Personal Network (VPN) to access Twitter to desist because of its possible security implications, including access to personal bank account information. “For those using VPN, if you think you’re hurting Lai Mohammed, you’re hurting yourselves”, he said.
On whether any channel of dialogue had been opened with Twitter, the minister said “we tried to but they rebuffed us. They are not known to us. They are not registered, but we hope we will be able to engage them”, as he lamented that the organisation had no investment in Nigeria, but in Ghana, while the target market was Nigeria.
Lead Chairman of the committee, Hon. Odebunmi Dokun at the close of the session noted that it was an investigating hearing, after which the report will be presented to the larger house, appealing to media practitioners to consider the sustainability of Nigeria as a country in all they do.