Telecommunications operators in Nigeria will shut down any remaining access to Twitter Inc. services by the end of Saturday on government orders, days after the social media giant deleted a post from President Muhammadu Buhari.

Major network providers took Twitter offline at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Gbenga Awonuga, executive secretary of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, said by phone. While Twitter was still accessible in some cases on Saturday morning, he said network operators “are disconnecting access” on all platforms.

Buhari, who was briefly a military dictator in the 1980s, broke Twitter rules when he threatened to crack down on separatists who were leading a rebellion in the southeast of the country. This is the latest standoff between social media and political leaders, after Twitter “permanently suspended” Donald Trump after the storming of the United States Capitol in January.

“Our members have received formal instructions from the Nigerian Communications Commission, the regulator of the sector, to suspend access,” Awonuga said. “We are only following the government directive because we are government licensees.”

Buhari’s deleted tweet appeared to threaten the use of civil war-like force. The offensive comments said those who fought in the three-year civil war, including the 78-year-old head of state, will treat those who “misbehave” today “in the language they understand.”

Twitter’s app is popular with young urban Nigerians, ranking the sixth most used social media platform in the country, and its suspension has sparked an uproar. The social media company said it was concerned about the move and would work to restore access.

Attorney General Abubakar Malami, who is also justice minister, has ordered the immediate prosecution of those violating the ban, according to a statement, without giving details of what constitutes an offender.

The Nigerian government was already facing criticism over a bill banning social media statements deemed “likely to undermine national security” and “those which could lower public confidence” in the Nigerian government. Legislation could result in fines and jail time for offenders until three years and would empower law enforcement agencies to order Internet service providers to restrict access.

The suspension of Twitter before the bill was passed has raised new concerns about the government’s intentions and freedom of expression in Nigeria.

“If Buhari has a problem with Twitter, he is advised to settle the problem between them personally, as Donald Trump did, not to attach the right to free expression of Nigerian citizens as collateral damage,” quoted the Leadership newspaper quoting Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Prize winning writer and outspoken critic of the government, as put it. “Either way, this is a technical issue that Nigerians should be able to get around. The field of free expression remains wide open, free from any dictatorial spasm.

Nigerians can still bypass the ban and access Twitter using virtual private networks.

– With the help of Alexei Anishchuk

(Add context on Donald Trump, the content of Buhari’s message, starting with the third paragraph.)



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