Register to operate in Nigeria, pay tax, FG tells Twitter

June 10, 2021
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 The federal government Wednesday came hard on the micro-blogging platform-Twitter- saying it must register as a business concern in Nigeria if the suspension placed on its operation is to be lifted.

This was one of the conditions listed by Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed while briefing journalists at the Presidential Villa Abuja.

The minister spoke to journalists after the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.

He said he management of Twitter Wednesday morning reached out for a high-level discussion to resolve the issue that led to the suspension of its activities in Nigeria.

The minister said management of the micro-blogging platform reached out to government for discussions Wednesday morning.

The minister, who accused the social media platform of some suspicious activities in the country, said the platform pays no taxes to the Nigerian government despite generating billions of revenue from Nigerians.

“It may interest you to know that most of the Over The Top and social media platforms operating in Nigeria do not have any office in Nigeria and do not pay taxes to the Nigerian government for the billions they earn here.

“That is not the best practice globally, and that is why we are insisting that for you to operate in Nigeria you must first be a Nigerian company and be licensed by the broadcasting commission.

“Therefore, any OTT or social media platform operating in Nigeria must do so legally,” the minister said.

The minister said the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had been directed to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT social media operations in Nigeria.

As a first step, the minister said they must register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and thereafter be licensed by the NBC and ensure adherence to the conditions stipulated in their licenses.

“We have already advertised the notice to the companies concerned to apply for registration of license.

“The cardinal thing is that Twitter must be registered in Nigeria. Twitter must be licensed in Nigeria and Twitter must stop using its platform for activities that are inimical to the growth of Nigeria and its corporate existence,” Mohammed said.  

Providing further insight into the suspension of the micro-blogging platform, the minister said it was providing ample opportunity for elements bent on threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria.

He said:  “As you are aware, last Friday the federal government suspended Twitter operations in Nigeria indefinitely. And the reason we gave was because of the persistent use of the Twitter platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.

“I want to repeat that it is because Twitter has consistently made its platform available to those who are threatening Nigeria’s corporate existence that is the reason for suspending their operations in Nigeria.”

In a veiled reference to tweets from leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr Nnamdi Kanu, the minister said: “Because, we’ve found out that Twitter is actually the platform of choice for a particular separatist leader who resides outside the country and issues directives to its members to attack symbols of government authority, such as the police, the military, the Electoral Commission offices, correctional centres, etc.

 “And this is being done willfully and consistently without any consequences from Twitter. You know, no country worth its name will tolerate that. And no company, no matter its self-importance, will force any nation to accept this.”  

He also berated Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey of funding October’s #EndSARS protests while citing facts from the online news platform, The Cable.

“I said Twitter funded the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria last year. And people have challenged it.

“And I’m glad that The Cable has done some fact-finding and their conclusions are as follows: they said the truth is that, fact-checking showed that indeed, Twitter played a prominent role in helping to raise funds for the #EndSARS protesters.

“Whether they paid directly, helped to pay or helped to raise funds, it’s a matter of semantics. And here is what the fact check the online newspaper revealed: A, that on October 14, 2020… retweeted an article about the protests with the #EndSARS hashtag alongside a link to the feminist coalition, one of the groups providing support for the protesters at the time.

“B, on the same date, he asked people to donate via bitcoins to support the movement. C, on October 16, Dorsey launched a special emoji to give the protesters more visibility on the micro-blogging platform.

“So, whether donating money himself or helping to raise money, the Twitter owner is one of those who helped to fund the #EndSARS protests that was later hijacked leading to loss of lives and massive destruction of property,” Mohammed further stated.  

On the effect of the twitter ban, he said: “For those that have heard that, ‘Oh, the ban is not effective.’ To the best of my knowledge, I think the ban is very effective. Otherwise, how would they be complaining that they are losing billions of Naira every day if the ban is not effective?

“But that is not the issue. Many of the commentators have said suspending the operation of Twitter is like stifling freedom of expression. And I said no.

“Twitter is just one of the many platforms through which Nigerians can express themselves. There is Facebook, there is Instagram, there’s WhatsApp. There’s Google Hangout and others. They have not been suspended.”

APC backs Buhari 

Meanwhile, the youth wing of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has said President Buhari did not ban Twitter in Nigeria but only suspended its operation temporarily.

 APC national youth leader, Mr Ismail Ahmed, told newsmen in Abuja that he was not personally happy about the development, adding that the controversy would soon be resolved amicably.

  Ahmed, who briefed the newsmen on why the well-publicised Progressive Youths Conference was postponed by a week, also clarified that Nigerian government did not ban social media contrary to insinuations.

 “The government didn’t ban social media as a lot of people will insinuate, it is very important that we know that because Facebook is still in operation, Instagram is still in operation, Whatsapp  is still in operation and a lot of other social media platforms still in operation.  In fact, some people will tell you Twitter is for the elite, young people and not necessary for the general public. 

 “I think there are far more subscribers of Facebook in Nigeria than they are of Twitter but having said that, it’s still a very important medium for people.  So for whatever it is that government felt to suspend Twitter, not ban, there was a suspension and of course there is a conversation going on between the government and the representative of Twitter and I am sure it will be resolved.”

 When asked how he personally felt about the development as a young man, the APC youths leader said: “We as young people our job is to represent our constituency and to plead with those we can plead with to come to amicable resolution. 

 “But as a government, if you are asking me as Ismail Ahmed whether I am okay with the suspension of a non-legal entity in Nigeria who feels it is okay for it to delete a tweet of the President without a recourse to a conversation with the government representatives if it can reach it, I think at some point government needed to reinstate that it is a sovereign Nation and that no company with whatever name that does not have any legal personality in Nigeria will do to it as it pleases. But am I happy that there is no Twitter today that I cannot tweet? Of course not, but I hope there will be an amicable resolution and I hope Twitter will be responsible going forward,” he said.

Trump backs Nigeria

Similarly, former US President Donald Trump has supported the Nigerian government’s decision to suspend the social media platform, and urged more countries to follow suit.

 “Congratulations to the country of Nigeria, who just banned Twitter because they banned their President.

“More countries should ban Twitter and Facebook for not allowing free and open speech — all voices should be heard,” Trump said in a statement.

“In the meantime, competitors will emerge and take hold. Who are they to dictate good and evil if they themselves are evil? Perhaps I should have done it while I was President,

  “But Zuckerberg kept calling me and coming to the White House for dinner telling me how great I was 2024?” Trump added.

Trump was permanently banned from both Twitter and Facebook after the Capitol insurrection early January.

Facebook said last Friday said the former US president’s  suspension would last for at least another two years.

PDP differs

In yet another reaction, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)   called on the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Saudi Arabia and other members of the international community  to immediately impose visa ban on President Buhari and members of his cabinet  for allegedly stifling free speech in Nigeria. 

The party made the position known Wednesday in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja.

“The PDP urges the countries to bar President Buhari, Lai Mohammed, Abubakar Malami and their family members from entering their territories for any private purposes whatsoever.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Article 19 of the UN Charter on Human Rights provides that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impact information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

 “In the same vein, section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.

 “Our party holds that the trio of President Buhari, Lai Mohammed and Abubakar Malami and their agents cannot continue to enjoy diplomatic privileges and rights extended by virtue of their offices in Nigeria, while at the same time blatantly flouting the UN Charter, which Nigeria is a signatory to, as well as the 1999 Constitution (as amended) upon which provisions they hold office. 

“This is more so as the stifling of information flow as being witnessed in the ban on Twitter further creates an enabling environment for abuse of human rights and acts of terrorism in our country.

 “The PDP calls on the international community to hold the trio of President Buhari, Lai Mohammed and Malami responsible for the escalated abuse of human rights, constitutional violations as well as the situations that embolden terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and vandals in our country.

 “Furthermore, our party has commenced the compilation of list of APC leaders, involved in the infringing on the rights of Nigerians for onward transmission to the UN and other world bodies for sanctions,” the opposition party further said.

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