From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Federal Government of Nigeria met on Monday with envoys of the US, the UK, the EU, the Canadian Government and the Government of Ireland over their response to Nigeria’s ban on Twitter’s operations in the country.
The meeting which was at the instance of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, follows a statement jointly issued by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Delegation of the European Union to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Canadian Government, and the Republic of Ireland, at the weekend, expressing disappointment over the ban on Twitter’s operations.
Prior to the joint statement, the United States Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria had issued a separate statement where it said the ban on Twitter’s operations in the country was an infringement on the rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression.
Present at the meeting were the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard; the British Deputy High commissioner, Gill Atkinson; Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Nicolas Simard; the Political Adviser on Maritime and Security, Politics, Press and Information Section, Delegation of European Union to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Thomas Kieler; and the Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of Ireland, Mr Conor Finn.
In his opening remarks, Onyeama said the meeting was a result of the statement jointly issued by the missions, forwarded to him.
The minister further said he felt it was absolutely appropriate to take their comments very seriously and meet with the heads of missions due to the respect for their countries and in view of the relationship with the affected countries.
He also said the meeting was in their usual friendly way, to discuss and share opinions with respect to the Twitter ban and clarify certain things.
‘So, it was for that reason that I have invited you here this morning, not summon, invited to discuss some of these issues,’ Onyeama said.
Speaking after a closed-door meeting with the envoys, Onyeama further said both sides reviewed the situation and restated the security concerns of President Muhammadu Buhari and the very strong steps that needed to be taken to address the security challenges of the country.
He added that since the envoys were all residing in the country, they had firsthand view and experience of the security challenges the nation is facing.
Onyeama stated that the role of social media as a platform was also discussed, adding that social media was good for the dissemination of information, but that like everything else, it can be used to do good; and it can be used to do bad.
‘Unfortunately, the bad that social media is often used to do, to commit, has very dire consequences on human lives and property and in our case also, threatened the unity of the country and so, as the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order, to maintain security and to preserve human lives, we have to take every measure to ensure that all those are preserved,’ Onyeama also said.
While saying that as a democratic country, Nigeria believed in the right to life, the right to property ownership, human rights, freedom of speech, Onyeama added that those rights have to be used responsibly where freedom of speech is concerned and, when that is not the case, the government has to take measures.
Onyeama also said during the meeting the envoys restated and made reassurances of their support and friendship towards Nigeria, the minister adding that there was the need to keep an eye on the main objectives of the Buhari administration, particularly on the issue of security.
Responding on behalf of other envoys, Leonard said as partners they want to see Nigeria succeed and that they want to see Nigeria unified, peaceful and prosperous.
Asked if they were withdrawing their statement, Leonard said they recognised that there are issues of the irresponsible use of social media, but that they ‘remain firm in our position that free access to the ability to express one’s self is actually very important and perhaps even more important in troubled times.’
Earlier, Leonard said the United States and other partners will continue to engage with Nigeria to uphold human rights and the rule of law.
‘I thank the minister for inviting us here today because that is what partners do. Talk about shared goals. We did speak about the issues of social media and our concerns.
‘We have to be very clear that we are Nigeria’s strong partners on issues of security and we recognize the daunting task on the issues of security that confronts Nigeria.
‘While they are daunting, they are not insurmountable, and part of the way you surmount them is with the partnership of the people you see represented here,’ Leonard stated.