The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, and the General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry, Pastor William Kumuyi, have defied the Federal Government’s order directing Nigerians to stop using Twitter.
While Adeboye said his tweets were covered by Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Kumuyi said his tweets were targeted at a global audience.
The clerics said these as the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and Republic of Ireland, after a meeting with the Federal Government on Monday insisted on their position that the suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government was a violation of the freedom of expression.
Also, there were indications on Monday that the police were confused on how to handle Nigerians who were still using Twitter despite the Federal Government’s suspension of its operations in Nigeria.
Earlier on Monday, the RCCG General Overseer, Adeboye, justified his use of Twitter. In a tweet, he stated his church was present across the world.
He wrote, “The Redeemed Christian Church of God is domiciled in more than 170 nations and territories. The tweets here are in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Kumuyi, while also tweeting, said, “In view of the Twitter ban in Nigeria, please note that the content shared on this handle is targeted at a global audience in more than five continents and over 100 nations and we share the content from any of these locations.”
The churches of the two revered Christian leaders also copied their tweets.
Checks by our correspondents showed that the Senior Pastor of the Daystar Christian Centre, Lagos, Nigeria, Pastor Sam Adeyemi; the General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministries International, Apostle Johnson Suleiman, have also continued to tweet despite the ban.
Adeyemi retweeted around 2pm on Monday an event posted by Horasis @HorasisOrg, where he was scheduled to be speaking.
Suleiman, on his part, has been consistently tweeting and retweeting posts and events.His last two posts on Monday were birthday greetings of a junior pastor and his daughter, respectively.
The Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, a staunch supporter of the present regime, also tweeted on Sunday despite the ban.
The Federal Government last Friday suspended Twitter barely two days after the social media platform deleted a tweet by the President, Muhammadu Buhari, which many Nigerians believed was repugnant.
The Buhari regime subsequently came under fire from several rights groups across the world for stifling free speech.
Amidst the public outcry and criticism that followed the government’s decision, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on Saturday directed the Director of Public Prosecution in his office to begin the process of prosecuting violators of the government’s suspension order.
Despite the ban, however, many Nigerians have been using Virtual Private Networks to access Twitter, a move which has further infuriated the government.
Titter ban: Police in dilemma over Malami’s directive on prosecution
Multiple sources in the police headquarters in Abuja on Monday told our correspondents that the police authorities were in a dilemma on how to enforce Malami’s directive.
One of the sources, who is a senior police officer, said, “Honestly, it is not something the police authorities will want to dabble into. Do you expect the police to begin to arrest these prominent Nigerians who you have mentioned because they are using Twitter?
“You know that policemen are already the ‘whipping boys’ of the Nigerian society always. Do you expect us to add this to our burden?”
Another police officer confided in one of our correspondents that the police authorities were not favourably disposed to being involved in the enforcement of the suspension, saying the Office of the AGF would do so.
When reminded that before the Office of the AGF could prosecute, the police would have to first arrest the suspects, the source said, “I am not aware of any plan to arrest anybody.
“In any case, it is not the police alone that can arrest offenders. For instance, are officials of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps not empowered to arrest?”
The Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, a Commissioner of Police, did not take his calls from the media which was based on several attempts to speak with him on Monday.
He has yet to return the calls or respond to the text message sent to him on the matter as of the time of filing this report.
Malami’s spokesman, Umar Gwandu, also did not respond to enquiries on the matter on Monday.
Arresting, prosecuting Twitter offenders not our job –NCC
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Communications Commission has said that it is not within its purview to arrest and prosecute violators of the suspension order.
Recall that in the Saturday statement, Malami had directed the Director of Public Prosecution to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, the NCC and other relevant government agencies “to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.”
But when contacted on Monday on how far the NCC had gone in collaborating with the DPP to prosecute offenders, the Director of Public Affairs, Dr Ikechukwu Adinde, said it was not within the power of the commission to arrest or prosecute.
“The NCC is a regulator. It is not within our power to arrest or prosecute. Based on our statement, we limited ourselves based on the order given to us by the government, which was to instruct the operators to disconnect, which was what we did. So, the other aspects are not within our purview,” Adinde said.
US, UK, Canada, others insist on position, FG begs for understanding
But the Federal Government at the meeting with US, UK and Canada on Monday pleaded with them for support and understanding over its decision to ban Twitter, saying it was already in discussion with the mirco- logging site.
The US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Leonard, spoke on behalf of the five envoys and their representatives in Abuja after a closed-door meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama.
Leonard, who told the minister that access to social media by citizens was germane to freedom of speech, which in turn is a prerequisite for a democratic culture, also advised the Nigerian government to identify those who committed crimes and use judicial processes to deal with offenders, adding “but to constrain, that is not the behaviour.”
The envoy also said that they were glad to hear that Nigeria was interacting with Twitter.
“We recognise the official position of the Nigerian government on the responsible use of social media but we remain firm in our position that free access to information is very important and perhaps more important during troubled times”, Leonard stressed.
The envoy said further that it was actually in troubled times that there was the need for individual expression and open conversation and accountability.
“We are here as partners and we want to see Nigeria succeed. It’s very clear that we are Nigeria’s strongest partners on issues of security and we recognize the daunting times in the way of the security challenges that confront Nigeria. While they are daunting, they are not insurmountable and part of the ways to surmount them is the partnership of the people you see represented here”, the envoy stated.
Onyeama confirmed that the Nigerian government was in dialogue with Twitter on the best ways to resolve the matter and perhaps lift the ban.
“As you yourself have said, discussions are ongoing with Twitter, we want to see how that progresses. So I cannot say for now the duration of the suspension. There are conversations with our partners and with the social media platform”, he stated.
The minister told the envoys that the Federal Government was not against the use of social media but wanted to see it use for global good and responsible communications.
He said, “We know the power of words and when you have that kind of power to manage and facilitate communication to billions of people, it has to come with responsibility. So, we are taking this measure to see to what extent we can rebalance the media as forces of good and stop them being used as a platform for destabilisation and facilitation of criminality.
Onyeama, who said that the meeting was meant to clarify issues, said, “We are asking them to also support us as we confront all these challenges and we have listened to their opinions.
“You were all aware when Mr President was elected, security was number one on the list of his priorities and it is something he really wants to deliver for the people of Nigeria. Without security everything else fails. Investment will not come and lives will be displaced.”
The minister said social media had many advantages, adding that the communication revolution should not be use to destabilise the country.
He stated, “We are not saying that Twitter is threatening the country or any such thing like that. That is not the justification. The justification for taking this measure is to see to what extent we can rebalance the media as forces of good and stop them from being used as a platform for destabilisation and facilitation of criminality and encouragement of criminality.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Monday issued more directives on its ban on Twitter as the National Broadcasting Commission ordered broadcast stations to suspend the patronage of Twitter with immediate effect.
The Acting Director General of the NBC, Professor Armstrong Idachaba, issued the directives in a statement titled, ‘Suspend Twitter handles.’
The commission directed the broadcast stations to “de- install Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source of information gathering for news and programmes presentation especially phone-in.
“Consequent on the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria by the Federal Government over the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining the corporate existence of Nigeria, the National Broadcasting Commission directs all broadcasting stations in Nigeria to suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately.
“In compliance to the above directive, broadcasting stations are hereby advised to de- install Twitter handles and desist from using twitter as a source of information gathering for news and programmes presentation especially phone-in.”
He cited the relevant sections of the NBC Act to justify his directives.
IPC, MRA threaten to drag FG before AU, UN
Also, two non-governmental organisations, Media Rights Agenda and the International Press Centre, on Monday threatened to drag the Federal Government to the African Union and United Nations if it did not rescind the ban placed on the mirco- logging site.
The groups stated that the action was an unjustifiable violation of the rights of all Nigerians to freedom of expression and access to information, noting that the action of the government violated the international and African charters the country was a party to.
This was contained in a joint statement signed by MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo; and the Executive Director of IPC, Mr Lanre Arogundade.
The statement was titled, ‘MRA, IPC condemn Federal Government’s Twitter ban, threaten to lodge complaints before the AU, UN bodies.’