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FEATURE: Counting the Cost of Twitter Ban in Nigeria

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Reactions continue to trail the Nigerian government’s action to ban Twitter, as the suspension bites hard on businesses and individuals who use the platform for information and purposes.

The federal government of Nigeria banned Twitter from operating in the country on June 5 after the leading social media giant deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari, warning the separatist agitators from the southeastern part of the country of a repeat of the Biafra Civil War.

“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 wrote in now-deleted Tweet.

The president’s tweet faced massive backlash from Nigerians home and abroad, leading to the deletion after Twitter accused the 78-year old leader of violating its rules. Obviously, the action didn’t sit well with the government, which responded with an indefinite suspension. There has been no love lost between the Nigerian government and Twitter for a while now, and the tweet deletion was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Twitter’s role in the October EndSARS protests against the government, its decision to sight its Africa headquarters in Ghana despite Nigeria being its Africa’s largest market is some of the past events culminating the suspension.

Since the suspension, the digital space experience has never been the same for many Nigerians. Some findings show that there are around 40 million Twitter users in Nigeria. For many of these users, who are mostly youths, the micro-blogging site represents an important part of their everyday life. It is their go-to online platform for the latest news and information. They follow their favourite artists, sports icons and chat with friends from within and outside the country.

For others, it is more than an information or entertainment digital space, but also a marketplace to meet clients, seek job opportunities, advertise and sell their products. Most big brands, such as banks, telcos and other service providers, use the platform to reach their customers. But with the ban in place, many business activities have suffered considerable financial downturns. For each hour the ban remains in place, Nigeria is losing about $250,000, according to a global internet monitor, NetBlocks. The MSMEs bear the greatest impact economic-wise, given how many of them have built their businesses around the platform.

Apart from the business angle, Twitter has been the rallying point for various other beneficial activities. It has been used to solicit funds for the sick and vulnerable, find missing persons, raise social awareness and summon ambulances in emergency moments. This explains why many Nigerian youths opposed the ban strongly.

Meanwhile, various bodies in the international community have joined many Nigerians to condemn the suspension. In a joint statement by the missions for the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland and Canada, the Buhari-led government’s action was condemned. The missions said they “strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline.”

Similarly, the Joe Biden administration also condemned the ban. In a statement by the Department of Statement, the US asked the government to “respect its citizens’ right to freedom of expression by reversing this suspension.” Amnesty International and other civil rights organization have also lent their voices against the ban.

In defiance of the government’s order, many Nigerians are still tweeting, using the Virtual Private Network (VPN) to bypass the blockade. The tool allows them to circumvent the country-specific internet restriction put in place by telecom and internet providers in the country. In response to this, the attorney general of the federation, Abubakar Malami, issued a statement threatening to prosecute individuals using VPN to access Twitter. His statement was met with backlash by some legal experts and who claimed they weren’t aware of any law making the use of Twitter an offence. Those defying the ban include prominent political and religious leaders in the country, as some even dare the government to prosecute them.

Though the government had initially announced an indefinite suspension, it later said it is temporary in another statement. Twitter also said it is in talks with the government to resolve the faceoff. This suggests both parties could reach an agreement in the coming days.

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.

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