Media and human rights advocates have carpeted the Nigerian government for ordering radio and television stations in the country to deactivate their Twitter handles.
The advocates who described the government order as illegal also called on the broadcast stations to ignore the directive.
The experts warned that the directive, by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), could portray Nigeria as a country with utter disregard for press freedom and lacking a framework to protect citizens’ rights.
The broadcast regulator on Monday ordered all broadcast stations in the country to suspend the “patronage of Twitter immediately.”
The NBC also “advised all television and radio stations to de-install twitter handles and desist from using twitter as a source (UGC) of information gathering for news and programmes presentation especially phone-in.”
A Nigerian radio station has faulted the directive, saying it “amounts to an attack on the media and freedom of speech, both of which are guaranteed by the Constitution of Nigeria.”
In an interview with Premium Times, the head of the International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, described the NBC’s directive as “shocking and unbecoming.”
Arogundade said the NBC as an institution has allowed itself to be used for all kinds of shenanigans and for that reason has totally lost respect as a body that can regulate the broadcast sector.
The directive, Arogundade added, is highly unbecoming and embarrassing.
“It is a clear violation of press freedom but beyond that they’ve also violated the right of corporate organisations to engage in legitimate business using legitimate means.
“There is no law that empowers NBC to order broadcast stations to de-install their Twitter accounts. As such, the broadcast stations should defy that order or go to court to challenge it,” Arogundade said.
In his reaction, the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, Edetaen Ojo, said the NBC’s order is an attack on the rights of broadcast media organisations.
“I don’t think that is part of the regulatory function of the NBC to do that,” Mr Ojo said.
“This demonstrates a clear lack of independence by the commission and shows that it exists only to do the bidding of the information minister.”
On her part, the director, Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan, said NBC’s action is “draconian and restricting civic space.”
“It’s an attack on press freedom and it’s telling you that authoritarianism is coming in,” Hassan said.
She said the decision goes beyond attack on freedom of the press as it is also an assault on freedom to receive and impart information.
“Because if these stations de-install their accounts, it means they cannot send or receive information from the public,” she added.
The Nigerian government had on Friday suspended the operations of Twitter in the country following the deletion of President Muhammadu Buhari’s controversial tweet by the social media platform on grounds of noncompliance with the rules of the platform.
The government said it would have none of Twitter’s actions to undermine the “corporate existence” of Nigeria and its meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
Despite public outcry and international condemnations, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, doubled down on the crackdown saying violators of the directive risked being charged to court.
Malami has failed to substantiate the threat with a legal backing but the Nigerian government later summoned the envoys of the U.S., UK, Canada and the European Union for a meeting following a joint statement they issued to condemn the Nigerian government’s crackdown on Twitter.