The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, has defended his continued usage of the micro-blogging platform, Twitter.
The platform has played an important role in public discourse in the country, with hashtags like #BringBackOurGirls after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in 2014 and #EndSARS during anti-police brutality protests last year. The government claimed that the suspension of Twitter was to protect the sovereignty of the country but digital rights advocates said it was censorship.
Joining the Twitter conversation Monday, Adeboye said tweeting is in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations universal declaration on human rights.
Using his official handle, @PastorEAAdeboye, the cleric who commands a huge following across the world, said: “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.
“Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights reads: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”
Also joining in defending the relevance of Twitter was the founder and General Superintendent of Deeper Christian Life Ministry Worldwide, Pastor William Folorunsho Kumuyi, who also said the church has branches across 100 countries and five continents hence it can tweet from anywhere in the world.
Kumuyi made this known on his Twitter handle @pastorwf_kumuyi in reaction to the suspension of the social media platform by the Federal Government and a threat by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, that Nigerians still using Twitter would be prosecuted.
He tweeted: “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 Federal Government had last Friday suspended Twitter barely two days after the social media platform deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari. The government has since then come under fire from many rights groups across the world for stifling free speech.
The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) announced in a statement on Saturday that it had complied with the government directive. Despite the ban, millions of Nigerians have continued to access the platform through Virtual Private Networks (VPN).
However, the government has said it will lift the ban if only the platform can be used responsibly. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, gave the condition in a meeting with envoys of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union in Nigeria yesterday.
Onyeama noted that the micro-blogging platform was not taken down because it was threatening the country, but the ban was meant to stop Twitter from being used for criminal activities.
“The condition would be responsible use of the social media and that really has to be it,” he said, when asked the time the ban would be lifted. “We are not saying that Twitter is threatening the country or any such thing. Why we have taken this measure is to stop them to be used as platforms for destabilisation and facilitation of criminality or encouragement of criminalities. When you have the power to communicate, it has to come with responsibilities.”
Asked if the government is seeking Chinese advice on how to place a firewall around the internet in the country, the Minister said: “I am not aware of any meeting with the Chinese authorities in respect of social media.”
Twitter had called its suspension “deeply concerning” and said it would work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on the platform to communicate and connect with the world. More than 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, according to NOI polls, a public opinion and research organisation.
“Banning systems of expression is not the answer,” the EU, US, Britain, Canada and Ireland had said in the statement late on Saturday. The statement added it was “precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Speaking on behalf of the five envoys at a closed-door meeting with Onyeama, US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, maintained the earlier position of the five ambassadors that the ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government violates freedom of expression of Nigerians irrespective of the concerns by the government that the platform was being used to perpetrate hate speech and criminality.
“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,” she said.
“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 recognise 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 way to surmount them is the partnership of the people you see represented here,” Leonard added.
The envoys were optimistic about the Federal government reaching a common ground as it was locked in discussions with Twitter. Onyeama also confirmed that the Nigerian government was in dialogue with Twitter on the best ways to resolve the matter.
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