Nigeria’s broadcast regulator, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), has ordered all broadcasting stations to deactivate their Twitter handles. In addition, the body further prohibits media platforms from using User Generated Content (UGC) as sources in their reportage.
The statement calls for strict compliance citing lines from the NBC Act and The Broadcasting Code that point to media companies having an obligation to adhere to national laws and be mindful of content capable of inciting violence or public unrest.
Although not outrightly stated, defaulters could be penalised based on the federation’s Attorney General, Abubakar Malami’s order to prosecute any Nigerian still using the microblogging platform.
The latest order resulting from the ongoing Twitter suspension in the country since Friday, June 4, 2021, is a way of disincentivising individuals and corporate bodies from patronising Twitter.
If anything, this proves to be a challenging period for businesses strongly dependent on the social media platform.
While the statement does not clearly state what media platforms are affected by the directive, the NBC Act defines broadcasting stations as entities — like radio, sound, television, cable, or satellite stations — that have received a broadcasting licence after satisfying the regulator’s requirements. From the definition, it is not clear if new media companies are also caught in this web.
This is not the first time the NBC is clamping down on broadcasters in the country.
Recall, during the October 2020 #EndSARS protest, NBC suspended three media companies on the claims of using UGC as their sources while accusing them of misinformation and releasing content that could incite unrest.
In a previous article, we established the role that UGC has played in the past in Nigeria while questioning why it should be forbidden because of the October 20, 2020 Lekki Tollgate Massacre.
Following the Twitter suspension order, some digital platforms have disengaged themselves from receiving customer complaints via their Twitter handles, advising users to reach out through other channels; others have put up disclaimer posts about where they are tweeting from.
For one, recent events have pointed to the intensified drive of the federal government to inhibit free speech, one of the many signs that the country may gradually be borrowing China’s cards.
As Twitter users in Nigeria find alternatives to access the platform either through VPN and other channels, it remains to be seen how this would ultimately impact journalism, freedom of speech, and timely dissemination of information in the country.
If anything, Nigeria has finally joined the list of countries losing millions of dollars to government-led Internet crackdowns annually. According to the NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST), the country may have lost up to $18 million (~₦6.5 billion) having kept up the order for almost 36 hours.