Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey has been charged to court by Nigerian businessman, Adamu Garba for allegedly inciting violence by strongly supporting the #EndSARS campaign against police brutality in Nigeria.
A former presidential aspirant, Garba filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Dorsey at the Abuja Federal High Court in which he requested that an order be issued to “stop the operation of Twitter Int’l company in any part of the territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The petition demands that Dorsey and Twitter pay a sum of $1 billion in compensation to the Nigerian government for damages incurred during the ongoing #EndSARS protests.
According to Garba, Dorsey has allegedly encouraged uprising in the country by sponsoring #EndSARS protests through fundraising posts on Twitter.
Dorsey has been very vocal on Twitter in his support for the #EndSARS protests against police violence by Nigerian youths. The Twitter CEO has been actively and consistently tweeting #EndSARS posts via his official handle.
Despite the legal action against him, Dorsey has tweeted against bad governance in Nigeria after some protesters were killed by security operatives at the Lekki toll gate.
Social media, especially twitter has been leveraged by young Nigerians to command the attention of international persons and organisations throughout the #EndSARS campaign.
With Garba seeking a Twitter ban, is it really possible for the Nigeria government to ban the social networking platform?
Can Twitter be Banned in Nigeria?
Social media platforms such as twitter may be used to spread anti-government propaganda, organise mass protests against apparent government injustice or leak classified information. These may lead to civil unrest and bring about a permanent or temporary ban of these platforms by the government.
Authorities in countries including China, Iran and North Korea have shut down Twitter for similar reasons. Also, Egypt and Tunisia temporarily banned Twitter in 2011.
The Nigerian government does reserve the right to ban Twitter in the country if it chooses to interpret the ongoing #EndSARS campaign as a ploy to topple the sitting government or instigate anarchy.
As provided under Section 5(1)(a) & (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended), the government has the constitutional and statutory duties to protect lives and property of citizens and ensure the existence of peace and order in any part of the territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
If the #EndSARS movement via Twitter is labelled as endangering the lives of Nigerians and causing nationwide rebellion, then Twitter may be banned by the government to restore order.
Twitter was the ground zero for the restart of the relentless #EndSARS campaign against police brutality and impunity in Nigeria. The campaign became the top trend worldwide on twitter and fueled #EndSARS protests across the country.
In 2009, Twitter was officially blocked in China after a peaceful protest by China’s Muslim minority, Uighurs broke out into full-blown fatal riots in Xinjiang. In the same year, Iran blocked Twitter prior to its contentious 2009 presidential elections in order to prevent activists from organising protests using the platform.
African countries such as Egypt and Tunisia restricted Twitter access during the Arab Spring after it had been used to organise a series of anti-government protests and armed revolts against oppression and poverty.
But countries like China, Iran and North Korea do not operate a democracy and their dictatorships make it easy for a ban to be imposed on social media during a crisis. Egypt and Tunisia as well were under a dictatorship during the Arab Springs which made it easy to place sweeping restrictions.
But Nigeria is a democracy and summary imposition of bans may not work. For instance, an anti-social media bill was proposed last year by the Nigeria Senate to prohibit the use of the social media in spreading false or pernicious information.
The bill was overwhelmingly opposed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) as well as civil society organisations, international rights groups and human rights activists. Unanimous consensus against the bill was based on the premise that it would severely restrict freedom of speech which is a fundamental human right in Nigeria.
Many Nigerians also vehemently resisted the bill, stating that it was a guise by the government to silence any critical and/or opposition speech.
Going by the reactions to the anti-social media bill – which was not passed in the end, the government is unlikely to declare a Twitter ban.
#EndSARS protests had been holding peacefully in various states before sponsored thugs and street urchins tried to hijack the movement by perpetrating nefarious acts. Coupled with stray shootings by security operatives, this has led to the deaths of several #EndSARS protesters during the campaign.
Curfews have already been declared in Lagos, Kogi, Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi States while some parts of Rivers, Plateau and Enugu states have been placed under a curfew. This is in a bid to arrest the situation. The stay-home order in Lagos has taken almost every protester off the streets and many people can only protest via Twitter for now.
As the Federal Government should be concerned by the loss of lives and property during this period, it is highly unlikely that it will ban Twitter amid the ongoing #EndSARS protests especially since it is the easiest means to get information across to the people case in point being Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s Twitter address to Nigerians last night.
Dorsey appears unbothered and is yet to give any response on the matter.
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