Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 June 2021:
The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria has generated reactions from local and international stakeholders, as the action tells on both the economic and social life of Nigerians who use the micro-blogging platform for business and information.
On June 5 2021, the Nigerian government suspended Twitter, restricting the leading social media company from operating in the country. The ban came after Twitter deleted a “genocidal” tweet made by President Muhammadu Buhari warning agitators from the southeastern part of the country of a repeat of the 1967-1970 Biafra Civil War that killed an estimated 1 million civilians, mainly by starvation.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Biafra war. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” Buhari’s now-deleted tweet read.
In response to Twitter’s action, the Nigerian government suspended the platform, blocking an estimated 40 million Nigerian users.
Twitter seems to have been irking the Buhari-led administration for a long time, considering how most activists and secession agitators favour the platform to vent their displeasure against the Nigerian government.
During the EndSARS protests in October, Twitter was the major online rallying point for activists – raising awareness about police brutality and organizing mass protests on the micro-blogging app. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also tweeted in support of the movement, calling for donations via cryptocurrency for the protesters. Entertainment and sports superstars, such as Kanye West, Rihana, and Anthony Joshua, also supported the protest via their various Twitter handles. The June 5 ban is a culmination of the long-running battle between the social media site and the government.
EU, US, Canada, others condemn the ban
Meanwhile, the international community, including the US and EU, has been condemning the ban, asking the Nigerian government to reverse it. The United States “condemns the ongoing suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government and subsequent threats to arrest and prosecute Nigerians who use Twitter,” the US Department of State said in a statement. The diplomatic missions of the UK, US, EU, Canada and Ireland also raised concern over the ban in a joint statement. “Banning systems of expression is not the answer,” it said. Amnesty International and other civil right organizations also condemned the ban.
The suspension has started taking tolls on the already struggling Nigerian economy. According to a global internet monitor, NetBlocks, Nigeria loses about $250,000 each hour the ban is in effect. As one of the country’s most popular social media platforms, many Nigerians utilize Twitter for business activities. For many youths, it’s not just an information and entertainment hub but also an avenue to meet potential clients, get jobs, advertise and sell products and services.
Many built their businesses around the app, and being restricted from it even for a day means a huge loss. Twitter is also about the biggest online media where financial institutions, telecommunication companies, and other service providers advertise and engage their customers. The platform has also been used to help locate missing persons, raise funds for the sick and vulnerable and summon ambulances for accident victims. If the ban remains in place for much longer, the effects could be worse.
VPN to the rescue
Despite the ban, however, many Nigerians continue to tweet using Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which help them bypass the restriction by the telecom operators. This includes prominent people in the country, such as religious leaders and political leaders. In reaction to the defiance, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami threatened to prosecute Nigerians using VPN to access Twitter.
Former Minister of Education Oby Ezekwesili, who has been using the platform after the ban, has dared the government, saying she’d be happy to be prosecuted. Some legal experts also said they weren’t aware of any law that makes it illegal to tweet, while others say police can make an arrest because of the sweeping powers given to them. But no one has been arrested or prosecuted since the ban.
Twitter said it is “deeply concerned” by the ban. In another statement, the tech giant said it is in talks with the Nigerian government to restore the service. But it remains to be seen if both parties would reach an agreement in the coming days.
About the author
Olusegun Akinfenwa is a political correspondent for Immigration News, a news organization affiliated with Immigration Advice Service (IAS). IAS is a leading immigration law firm that helps people immigrate and settle in the UK.