Opinions & Features June 22, 2021 at 08:00 am

How Nigeria is coping after ban on Twitter

Nii Ntreh June 22, 2021 at 08:00 am

June 22, 2021 at 08:00 am | Opinions & Features

The Nigerian government banned Twitter seven months ago. Photo Credit: BBC Pidgin

Nigeria’s government declared, ironically through the Twitter account of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, on June 4, 2021, that Twitter operations in the country will be suspended. The ban in Africa’s most populous country came just two days after Twitter removed a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari’s account for breaking its rules.

Subsequently, the government has mandated that internet services such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix, and Skype should get licenses from the National Broadcasting Commission before being allowed to operate in the nation.

According to experts, the registration is only a pretense for regulation. In an attempt to regulate speech in Nigeria, the Nigerian government has introduced anti-social media laws. Senator Bala Ib Na’Allah introduced a bill in 2015 called ‘A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith,’ which targeted social media.

The bill was dropped, but was reintroduced in the Senate in 2019 as the “Protection against Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019.” The government then started a new push to restrict social media following the ‘Lekki Massacre’ on October 20, 2020, with the goal of allowing law enforcement to shut down the internet at any time.

The critics of the ban point to the implications on free speech and economic development. They argue the prohibition will make it impossible for the government to claim that it is pro-technology. In 2016, when Buhari welcomed Mark Zuckerberg, the Nigerian government called on international investors to invest in Nigerian technology start-ups and assist the country’s technological ecosystem.

The critics also point out that Twitter’s indefinite suspension will have an impact on a large number of small and medium-sized companies in Africa’s most populous country. Nigerians are losing “billions of naira on a daily basis,” according to the minority caucus in the federal national assembly.

An analysis by Netblocks’ Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST) says the shutdown of Twitter in Nigeria is costing the West African nation up to $220,000 (N90.7 million) per hour. The analysis shows that Nigeria was not only losing money but many startups that relied on Twitter to reach customers are also negatively affected.

For Instance, certain businesses that advertised chiefly through Twitter have had to find new means at a cost or even gone dormant on promotion and advertising. The subsidiary of the phone makers Itel in Nigeria tweeted on June 21 that its Nigerian Twitter account is now being managed from Accra, Ghana.

Young Nigerians, among whom there is a 45 percent unemployment rate, are also expected to be the worst impacted by the prohibition, according to development experts.

For the sections of Nigerians who support the ban, they make the case of big tech undermining the authority of a leader of a sovereign nation. Others, like Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, a writer, have said that Twitter does not completely grasp the contextual importance of Buhari’s post. Adamu Garba, a politician and one-time presidential candidate, was ecstatic about the ban, describing Twitter as an anti-Nigerian force.

Among the supporters of the Nigerian ban has also been former United States President Donald Trump who has himself been permanently banned from the social media platform.

The authorities, in the beginning, threatened criminal action against inhabitants who find a way to tweet from Nigeria. But many Nigerians are still tweeting through the use of Virtual Point Networks (VPN) that disguise their locations.

Some have even found comic relief in using VPNs.

Regardless of the position taken, the ban is expected to impact the corporate image of Nigeria. The country, which had previously been lauded as one of the few African countries to draw investment into its digital industry, was recently bypassed when Twitter picked Ghana as the location for its first African headquarters.

According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, Nigeria was rated 120th out of 180 nations in 2021. According to the current World Bank annual rankings, Nigeria is rated 131 out of 190 economies in terms of ease of doing business. Nigeria’s ranking may suffer as a result of the Twitter ban, and spooked investors may rethink their positions.

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