#TwitterBan: “Clearly, this regime is fast losing its legitimacy” – Punch editorial

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One of Nigeria’s most popular newspapers, The Punch says the nation is “steadily slipping back” into the dark days of military dictatorship under the Muhammadu Buhari presidency.

It further warned that Nigeria was “sliding towards fascism”, advocating a “vigorous push-back” by all stakeholders using every lawful means to “preserve our hard-earned freedoms”.

The newspaper stated this in a stinging editorial published on Tuesday, June 8 in reaction to the Federal Government’s indefinite suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria.

According to the editorial, the action was retaliation by FG having been “stung by the international shame accompanying Twitter’s removal of a repugnant tweet by the president.”

It described as “unguarded” the president’s now-deleted tweet which it said led to the ban.

On the ban, the editorial dubbed it “rash, undemocratic and anti-investment”, adding that “it further jeopardises the country’s international reputation, assaults basic rights and worsens the economic adversity. It is, indeed, an unnecessary detraction”.

“Widely condemned at home and abroad, it has forced some of the 33 million Nigerian social media users to bypass the ban using the Virtual Private Networks and led to a new hashtag, #TwitterBan.

“Irked by the ineffectiveness of its order, the regime further threatened to arrest and prosecute VPN users. Clearly, this regime is fast losing its legitimacy,” the editorial read in part.

Saying that the administration attracted “considerable scorn” for the ban, the editorial further read, “Rational voices, including those of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Bar Association, civil society groups and lawyers have rightly criticised the order. Dismay has also come from foreign missions that strongly supported the fundamental human rights of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria, as well as around the world. The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Enoch Adeboye, argues correctly that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

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“But more pernicious was the regime’s summoning of the envoys of these countries. Impetuous, disproportionate, and devoid of sober, mature reflection, the suspension has reputational, economic, and legal implications, all negative. It is an attack on democracy and a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens to ventilate their views and conduct their businesses through a lawful platform.”

The editorial stated that with its action, the Buhari administration has succeeded in adding Nigeria to the list of some authoritarian countries where Twitter has been suspended or banned, saying it was embarrassing for the nation “to be found in the same club of social media oppressors like China, Iran, North Korea and Turkmenistan”.

It said that the ban has confirmed that President Muhammadu Buhari has not changed from his days as a military dictator that enacted Decree 4 that showed his hatred of free speech and press freedom.

The editorial decried the “gross personalisation of governance” under Buhari, warning that “personal ego should not dictate national policy”.

It lamented the economic disadvantages of the ban.

Quoting an advocacy group, Paradigm Initiative, the editorial lamented that Nigeria was losing $250,600 to the Twitter ban.

“This arises from its use as an advertising and networking platform by local and foreign businesses. It is expected to devastate the SMEs sector that according to the Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria relies on Twitter among others to advertise products and services and creates over 70 per cent of formal jobs.

“It will also hit the youth segment of the population the hardest who already suffer 42.5 per cent jobless rate and are the biggest users of tech tools to survive. Research by Briter Bridges and AfriLabs found that of the 643 tech hubs in Africa by 2019, Nigeria had the highest with 90 hubs. It accounted for 17 per cent of the $1 billion raised by African tech start-ups in 2020, said Techpoint Africa. Nigerian tech firms, run by youths, raised $219 million in the first quarter of this year.

“Meanwhile, foreign direct investment desperately needed for infrastructure and job creation has been falling. From $4.45 billion in 2016, it crashed to $2 billion in 2018, rose to $3.3 billion in 2019 and dropped again to $2.2 billion in 2020 as per World Bank data.”

It urged the National Assembly to stand with the people they were elected to represent and charged civil societies and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to “quickly make good their pledges to challenge the imprudent action in courts”.

“Buhari and his regime need to understand that modern governance is run on rational, scientific considerations, not on personal whims. Actions and their implications on the general good of the country must be thoroughly analysed. Social media, technology and innovation are the engines of modern society.

“It should be made clear that Twitter is not a government actor. It, therefore, has the right to make its rules of engagement. Buhari needs to rethink. Instead of lashing out at Twitter, he should apply himself to how to genuinely rescue the country from the pangs of insecurity. He should reconsider the order and lift the ban on Twitter unconditionally,” the editorial further read.

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