The U.S. condemned the ongoing suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government and subsequent threats to arrest and prosecute Nigerians who use Twitter.
The statement released by the U.S. Department of State’s Spokesman Ned Price further condemned the Nigerian National Broadcasting Commission after it ordered all television and radio broadcasters to cease using Twitter.
“Unduly restricting the ability of Nigerians to report, gather, and disseminate opinions and information has no place in a democracy. Freedom of expression and access to information both online and offline are foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies,” part of the statement read.
The Nigerian government said on Friday it was indefinitely suspending Twitter after the company deleted a controversial tweet President Muhammadu Buhari made about a secessionist movement.
In recent months, pro-Biafra separatists have been accused of attacking police and government buildings.
In his tweet, Buhari vowed to “treat them in the language they understand.”
Twitter had deleted Buhari’s post on Wednesday, calling it abusive.
More than 1 million people died during the 1967-1970 civil war that erupted when secessionists from the southeast sought to create an independent Biafra for the ethnic Igbo people.
Buhari, an ethnic Fulani, was on the opposing side in the war against the Igbos.
The government’s decision to suspend Twitter is being widely condemned.
Amnesty International said it condemns the Nigerian government’s suspension of social media widely used by Nigerians to exercise their human rights including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
The US mission in Nigeria said that Nigeria’s constitution provides for freedom of expression.
In its reaction, Twitter said it is deeply concerned by the government’s action saying free and open internet is an essential human right in modern society.
There are an estimated 40 million Twitter users in Nigeria.
Many young people have been finding a way around the ban by turning to virtual private network (VPN) apps to access social media platforms.
But the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has warned that those defying the government’s ban on Twitter will be prosecuted.
The government has in the meantime ordered that all over-the-top streaming services and social media operations in the country be licensed, an indication that it wants to restrict the use of media and communications services like WhatsApp, Netflix, and Facebook that use data provided by internet service providers.
Many Nigerians fear President Buhari is planning another aggressive attack on free speech as he did in 1984 when he was head of a military government.
At the time, he promulgated a military decree that gave him the power to shut down media houses and to jail journalists for stories the government consider unfavorable.
A sign on the newsroom wall at the Nigerian broadcaster News Central spells out the channel’s motto: No to mediocrity and disinformation.
For News Central’s dozens of journalists, most of them young reporters under 40, that part of the job just got more difficult after the government suspended Twitter.
Inside the channel in Lagos financial district, the newsroom is humming with journalists busy editing news and presenters finishing make-up for the studio.
Launched just three years ago and now accessible via satellite, News Central has plans to become the largest pan-African chain for continuous news broadcasts.