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Nigeria suspends Twitter after the social media platform freezes president’s account

Nigeria has indefinitely suspended Twitter two days after the social media giant temporarily froze the account of the nation’s president, sparking a torrent of Internet outrage in Africa’s most populous country.

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The minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, made the surprise announcement Friday in the capital Abuja, citing vague safety concerns.

Mohammed condemned “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence,” according to a statement from Segun Adeyemi, special assistant to the president.

Officials did not provide further details.

“The announcement made by the Nigerian Government that they have suspended Twitter’s operations in Nigeria is deeply concerning,” the company said in a statement, adding that it would investigate.

On Wednesday, Twitter removed a post by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, that vowed to punish separatists in the nation’s southeast whom authorities have blamed for attacks on federal property.

“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War,” wrote Buhari, a retired general, referring to the 1967-1970 conflict. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”

The social media platform said Buhari’s tweet violated its “abusive behavior” policy, removed the post and suspended his account for 12 hours.

Twitter is massively popular in Nigeria. Rumors swirled this year that chief executive Jack Dorsey, who paid a high-profile visit to the country in 2019, would open an Africa office there before the tech firm landed in Ghana.

Nigerian activists have harnessed the platform to fuel major protest movements — including #EndSARS, which led to the end last year of a police unit that human rights groups called abusive.

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Authorities did not clarify how and when the ban would start. One senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said he was shocked by the move and wasn’t sure how it would work.

Amnesty International’s Nigeria arm criticized the ban in a tweet Friday, saying that Twitter is “widely used by Nigerians to exercise their human rights.”

SERAP, a human rights law nonprofit group in Lagos — Africa’s largest city, with an estimated 20 million inhabitants — pledged to sue the government.

“Nigerians have a right to freedom of expression and access to information including online,” the group tweeted, “and we plan to fight to keep it that way.”

Shortly after the announcement, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, which spread the suspension news on Twitter, saw its own account flooded with replies. Many users blasted the irony.

“Using @twitter to announced the suspension of its operation in Nigeria on its platform. Are you alright???” wrote one user.

Others shared more lighthearted takes.

“Maybe now that [the federal government] has banned Twitter in Nigeria, I can finally get off my phone, focus on school and get a job,” one user wrote.

And Nigerians continued to tweet into the evening. One prolific poster was JJ Omojuwa, a podcast host in Lagos who has 1 million followers.

“It’s a disaster,” he said. “It’s a tragedy that the government would even think to do something like this rather than focus on real problems.”

In recent months, attackers in Nigeria’s southeast have ambushed police stations and government buildings, killing several officers and civil servants.

Authorities have pinned the escalating violence on the Eastern Security Network, an armed group that emerged from a secessionist movement called the Indigenous People of Biafra.

For two and a half years in the late 1960s, separatists in the region fought to split from the government and form a new state, Biafra.

Between 500,000 and 3 million people died on the Biafran side, researchers estimate — many from hunger. The Nigerian military faced accusations of war crimes after blocking food supplies for civilians.

Buhari, who took office in 2015, led troops during the conflict. The president has promised to tame the nation’s security challenges, but lately unrest has deepened on multiple fronts.

Kidnapping has become endemic, researchers say, as armed groups have increasingly abducted people, including groups of schoolchildren, across the countryside for ransom.

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Extremist groups in the northeast — Boko Haram and an offshoot loyal to the Islamic State — continue to dominate villages, collecting taxes and recruiting children.

And armed groups have committed massacres recently in the country’s central croplands, according to local media outlets, as farmers and herders clash over territory disputes.

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