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How MTN Wrongly Interpreted Nigerian Communications Act To Block Peoples Gazette Website As Directed By Buhari Regime

What MTN Nigeria Communications Plc relied on to block its subscribers from accessing the Peoples Gazette website is in Section 146 of the Act.

A telecommunications company in Nigeria, MTN, misinterpreted Section 146 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 in its explanations as to why it blocked its subscribers from accessing Peoples Gazette’s website, based on written directives from President Muhammadu Buhari's government.

The company in response to a letter addressed to it by Effiong Inibehe, human rights lawyer and counsel for the online newspaper, claimed that Peoples Gazette ran foul of Section 146 of the Nigeria Communications Act, 2003 and the applicable terms and conditions of MTN’s operating licenses.


What MTN Nigeria Communications Plc relied on to block its subscribers from accessing the Peoples Gazette website is in Section 146 of the Act. 

Meanwhile, Section 146 – (1) says, "A licensee shall use his best endeavour to prevent the network facilities that he owns or provides or the network service, applications service or content application service that he provides from being used in or in relation to the commission of any offence under any law in operation in Nigeria.

Section 146 (2) says, "A licensee shall upon written request by the commission or any other authority assist the Commission or any other authority as far as reasonably necessary in preventing the commission or attempted commission of an offence under any written law in operation in Nigeria or otherwise in enforcing the laws of Nigeria, including the protection of the public revenue and preservation of the national security.”

“This is what Section 146 they cited said. But no one has found Peoples Gazette guilty of committing any crime in Nigeria,” a source told SaharaReporters.


In a letter addressed to the Peoples Gazette by MTN's lawyers, it was stated that the directive to block access to the site was pursuant to a directive from the Nigerian Communications Commission in January 2021. 

It reads, “We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 20 October 2021 requesting MTN Nigeria Communications Plc (MTNN) to lift the restrictions barring the website of People Gazette from gaining access on the MTN Network. 

“Please be advised that the network access restriction for is pursuant to the directives of the Nigerian Communications Commission (“Commission”) dated 26 January 2021,” the company’s legal advisers said in a letter to The Gazette’s lawyers this week. 

“As a responsible corporate organization, MTN complied with the said directive in line with both the provisions of section 146 of the Nigeria Communications Act, 2003 and the applicable terms and conditions of MTNN’s operating licenses.

“While MTNN empathizes with the owners and management of the Peoples Gazette, it would be unable to unilaterally reverse or lift the restriction except by the directives of the Commission. 

“MTNN, therefore, advise that the management of the Peoples Gazette should engage with the Commission for a resolution of this issue and issuance of the directives to reverse the restriction.”


SaharaReporters recalls that in January, the Buhari-led Government shut down the platform of Peoples Gazette, denying its readers access to the website. 

The platform said in a release that a vast majority of its web readers were denied access to its contents owing to a disruption influenced by the government.

The platform, launched in 2020, has been critical of the government’s actions and policies, including its coverage of the #EndSARS protest, staged in October 2020 and the aftermath of the protest.

In a statement issued by its Managing Editor, Samuel Ogundipe, the media organisation alleged that the disruption was based on a directive from the Nigerian government to MTN, Glo Mobile and other telecom firms. 

Ogundipe suspected the restriction may have been caused by a couple of reports the newspaper published.

MTN and Glo have the two biggest mobile data subscriber bases with 78,754,855 and 52,573,907 connected lines respectively as at the end of the second quarter of 2020, figures released by the Nigerian Communications Commission showed. 

Airtel has 52,462,347 subscribers and 9mobile, in the fourth position, has 12,111,674 subscribers.

“We have strong grounds to believe that it [the restriction] was deliberately based on the preliminary conclusion of webmasters,” Ogundipe said.

The clampdown on Peoples Gazette’s operations may not be unconnected to certain critical reports done by the platform recently exposing the corruption and power play in Aso Rock, Nigeria's seat of power. 

“Nigerian telecom firms have a history of acquiescing to repressive orders from state actors without recourse to the Nigerian Constitution, which is why we would not yield any resources to fight back against this through available civil authorities,” Ogundipe said.

Expectedly, Ogundipe said the restriction will stifle the newspaper of its readership and will “leave our newspaper haemorrhaging crucial revenues from web traffic” if it lingers.

Meanwhile, the recent happening with a letter from the MTN management shows that the directive to block The Gazette’s website which came on January 26 indicates prompt compliance with the NCC; without recourse to a fair hearing to the newspaper.

This is also in line with the conclusion of experts at the Swedish-based Qurium Foundation, whose forensic analysis had confirmed in February that The Gazette’s website was blocked by Nigerian telecom operators.

Ogundipe stated, “This confirmation of NCC’s arbitrary directive to telecom firms only marks the latest of several attempts that top elements of the Buhari regime have made to shut down our organisation for simply committing no other offence but journalism.

“We have continued to keep records as different government agencies and enforcers implement devious plots, including military surveillance and smear campaigns, to rid the country of our public-interest journalism and perpetuate their corrupt and oppressive agenda.”

He added that the NCC’s framework as an industry regulator prohibits it from depriving Nigerians of their fundamental rights to access information, especially when done without any backing of any court of law. 

“The NCC under President Muhammadu Buhari conducted its blocking of Peoples Gazette’s website entirely in secret and in the manner consistent with cyber-hackers. 

“The government has just provided further validation to our journalism of exposing corruption, abuse of power and disregard of constitutional order,” Ogundipe said.

However, the Managing Editor commended MTN’s decision to own up after several months of enquiries from both The Gazette and other media outlets and rights groups across the world; as he also encouraged the remaining three mobile network operators to come clean.

“We expect Airtel, 9mobile and Glo Mobile to follow MTN and admit their role in the restrictions. But that won’t stop our lawyers from exploring all legal options of redress in this matter.”

Rights groups including Gatefield, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have condemned the restrictions and demanded a reversal, as well as opposition leader Atiku Abubakar, who termed it as a stark throwback to the dark days of military fascism in Nigeria.