The United States President, Joe Biden and other world democratic leaders need to know fully that Nigerians’ fundamental rights, especially the right to expression are under siege by their President Muhammadu Buhari, a man with apparent conservative attitude to present-day Nigeria, a highly populated multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation.
At the time of this writing, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, that is somewhat modelled after the American Constitution, continues to fully guarantee the right of expression. Now, these freedoms are under threat in today’s Nigeria.
Some hours after Twitter removed Buhari’s ‘abusive’ civil war tweet, he tweeted his anger in response. His regime decided to ‘indefinitely’ and/or temporarily suspend Twitter in Nigeria.
Facebook equally slapped Buhari by removing his violent reference which made him more irritated. Nigerians are wondering what next he will do should his assault on the right of expression be further questioned by the likes of Google, Yahoo, Bing, YouTube, and others.
Buhari through his Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, which is being led by Isa Pantami, has ordered all the Nigerian telecommunications firms to block access to Twitter.
The leading networks in Nigeria include MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile have obeyed. Now, millions of citizens, foreigners, investors, and visitors have no Internet access to families, friends, business partners, and investors.
To make things worse for the people, his Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami, has “directed for the immediate prosecution of offenders” of the ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria. Even when there is no law today in Nigeria that would allow the prosecution of anyone using Twitter.
An estimated 40 million of Nigerians are unable to access Twitter after the regime enforced the suspension in the country, and many are now in a state of general panic, alarm, anger, sadness, frustration, and helplessness.
The people’s emotional responses could turn to rage and more overwhelming feelings as Buhari’s regime has in the meantime ordered all social media operations including all over-the-top streaming services in the country to be licensed, an indication that Buhari wants to restrict the use of media and communications services like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Netflix that use data provided by Internet service providers.
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As of today, Nigeria is part of the United Nations that long declared that the rights held by the people offline must also be protected online.
President Biden, Nigerians are utterly scared because Buhari has gone against their rights before when as head of a military regime in Nigeria in 1984, he forcefully attacked their free speech.
In fact, he once promulgated a military decree that gave him power to shut down media houses and to incarcerate journalists for stories the junta considered negative.
Nigeria despite all its current challenges is still a constitutional democracy and there is no way Buhari’s regime can freely clamp down on freedom of expression and other freedoms. Not this time.
Nigerians are grateful that America, Canada, Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Norway, the European Union, and the United Kingdom have all rebuked Buhari and his regime and called for the need to allow Nigerians to express their constitutional right of freedom of expression.
Nigeria as of today is not an Islamic Republic like Iran, known for restricting online expression and access to information, restricting freedom of press, blocking websites, and blocking access to social media under the pretext of accusing these platforms of promoting violence and immorality in the country. An excuse the Buhari regime is also using at present.
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The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, while announcing indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, said that the use of the microblogging platform for activities is capable of “undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”. When in fact it is quite the opposite as the regime’s current ban of Twitter’s operations will further affect the already poor economy by sending a scary message to investors and businesses.
Many Nigerians are wondering how Buhari will use the Nigeria Police, a secular and non-religious body, to enforce its ban. While the judiciary is known for its history of being compromised or bribed, can it be forced to misapply the rule of law?
If Nigeria functions under a secular and constitutional democracy, the people’s human rights must be promoted and guaranteed.
On December 17, 2020, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, held a panel on human rights violations and how the U.S. can help.
The commission’s co-chair, Rep. Christopher R. Smith, mentioned the dire situations on the ground in Nigeria which include killing of Christians, police brutality, nepotism, lopsided appointments filled with Islamic northern senior government officials.
Nigeria under Buhari or any other leader must not be allowed to become a place of habitual genocidal violence, fundamental rights violations, and domestic terrorism.
Along with the Biden administration and a coalition of democracies, there is a need for urgent policies to be created that will apply maximum pressure on the Buhari regime over human rights abuses against the people of Nigeria.
Professor John Egbeazien Oshodi is an American-based police/prison scientist and forensic psychologist. Jos5930458@aol.com.