Despite statements by Nigeria's Federal Government that it has no intention of shutting down or restricting Internet before or during the period of the upcoming elections, many Nigerians still fear that an Internet shutdown it could happen. These fears have been heightened given events leading up to the elections including the last minute postponement of the elections, barely 4 hours before voting stations were expected to open.

One other incident leading up to the elections that shook Nigerians and eroded whatever was left of their trust of the current government was when President Muhammadu Buhari suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

Countdown on Nigeria's Independent Electoral Comission's website.

Despite the valid fears of a possible Internet shutdown in Nigeria, there are several things those residing in Nigeria can do now to ensure they still have Internet access. However, this all depends on what the government decides to do.

Internet shutdown vs Internet restrictions

We often use the phrase Internet shutdown as a blanket phrase covering everything from a total Internet shutdown, up to and including, the restriction of specific apps and services. Typically, as we've witnessed on numerous occasions around the continent and most recently in Sudan and Zimbabwe, governments will issue a directive to telecommunications companies to restrict specific Internet services, in most cases this is social media platforms but there has also been cases where mobile money was restricted.

Firstly, there's a case of a total Internet shutdown. This happened in Zimbabwe earlier in 2019, where, after initially issuing a directive for a partial Internet restriction on instant messaging and social media platforms, a few days later the government told and threatened telecommunications companies in the country to completely switch off all Internet services. In such a case, you can't do much and will likely have to wait until telecommunications services are enabled again in order to be able to access the Internet.

The second scenario is if Nigeria's government enforces Internet restrictions (e.g. social media shutdown), the best way to ensure you still have Internet is to get a VPN service for your mobile phone and your computer. Simply put, VPN services will allow you to mask and hide your Internet traffic thus making it difficult to restrict it. There are free VPN services and there are those you have to pay for. Typically, the main difference between the two is the speeds.

How to decide which VPN service to use

The first and most important criteria to check, before even deciding on whether to pay for a VPN service or to use a free one, is to check how secure the service is.

How a VPN secures Internet activity. Mohammad Taha Khan, CC BY-ND

What you don't want is a VPN service that allows other systems on the Internet to be able to monitor and see which Internet services you are using. It goes without saying that if the VPNis "leaky", it will be useless during Internet restrictions.

When VPNs don’t work right, users’ data leaks out. Mohammad Taha Khan, CC BY-ND

The easiest way to check if your VPN is leaky is to use one of the many sites that offer this test such as Perfect Privacy Test Tools.

The second, and equally important, test you want to perform is to check the speed of your potential VPN. However, this is not as straightforward as it sounds. testing a VPN's speed is dfferent from testing your normal Internet connection speed. If you used the normal speed testing method it will return approximately the same speed you would expect from your Internet connection because you aren't really testing the VPN's speed but your Internet connection to the VPN.

To correctly test the speed of your VPN you'd need to test the speed from the VPN server connecting to the Internet. There are several services that you can use to test a VPN service"s speed such as CacheFly or SpeedTest.

Having said all this, I hope that sanity will prevail and Nigerian authorities will not revert to shutting down the Internet

Cover image credit: Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari.

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