Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said a state-wide ban on Twitter which prompted international condemnation over the weekend was only a temporary measure in response to misinformation, in comments posted on Facebook.
Many Nigerians, who use mobile networks to access Twitter, found they were unable to access the social media platform on Saturday.
The Information Ministry’s announcement that it had suspended access to Twitter came days after the platform removed one of the president’s tweets.
Twitter said it had deleted the Buhari tweet because it violated the site’s rules against abusive behaviour. The US technology giant also suspended the account for 12 hours.
Buhari said on Saturday that the suspension of Twitter was not just a response to the removal of his own tweet.
“There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences,” Buhari said. “All the while, the company has escaped accountability.”
The president added in his statement that the removal of his tweet was “disappointing” and that “the censoring seemed based on a misunderstanding of the challenges Nigeria faces today.”
There was widespread criticism of the Twitter ban, domestically and abroad, with the EU, US, Canada and Britain expressing disappointment in a joint statement on Saturday. Banning systems of expression is not the answer, the statement said.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, to hold the Nigerian government to account over the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.
The organization condemned the repression of human rights, freedom of expression, access to information, media freedom, and flagrant disregard for the rule of law.
SERAP advised Scotland “to consider recommending the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth to the Heads of Government”.
The rights body also called on Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth, to push the Muhammadu Buhari administration to take concrete measures to respect and promote the values of human rights, transparency and accountability.
The Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, in an urgent appeal, told the Commonwealth that the Nigerian government has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not committed to protecting human rights.
The letter copied António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The organization wants the Commonwealth to take a clear stand to ensure accountability of institutions, freedom of expression and access to information in Nigeria.
SERAP said allowing citizens to freely exercise their human rights without threat of reprisal or prosecution would enable them to contribute to society on issues of transparency, accountability, good governance and integrity.