Many Nigerians have been counting their losses several weeks into the Twitter suspension in Africa's most populous country. The suspension tells on businesses and individuals who use the platform for commercial and social activities.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration announced the shutdown of Twitter Nigeria on 4 June 2021 after the social media company deleted a “genocidal” tweet by the president. Buhari’s tweet threatened the Biafra agitators from the southeastern part of the country of a repeat of the 1967-1970 Biafra Civil War that killed an estimated 500,000 to 2 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 wrote in the now-deleted Tweet.
The microblogging platform, which flagged the tweet as a violation of its rule, first suspended the 78-year-old leader before deleting the tweet.
Angered by Twitter’s action, the government responded with an indefinite ban over “the persistent use of the platform for activities that we capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”. The ban took effect the following day, as the government asked all the telecom/internet providers in the country to block access to Twitter.
Social and economic effects of Nigeria’s Twitter ban
Since the ban took effect, the digital space experience has not been the same for many Nigerians.
According to a Lagos-based research organization, NOI Polls, Nigeria has 120 million internet users, and about 40 million of them have a Twitter account, representing 20% of the country's population. For many, Twitter represents an important part of their social and economic life.
Twitter is one of the biggest platforms for social and political interaction in Nigeria. It gives the youths a voice on various existential social and political issues affecting the country. It was their major focal point during the EndSars movement, which brought an end to the elite brutal police unit Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The platform has also helped in raising funds for the sick, summoning ambulances, and locating missing persons. In May, Twitter played a crucial role in unraveling the kidnapping and murder of a young jobseeker in the south-south part of the country.
The suspension also has many economic effects on Nigerian businesses.
Reports by a global internet watchdog organization NetBlocks show that Nigeria is losing an estimated $250,000 every hour the suspension is in place. This makes it a daily loss of $6 million. This is because Twitter serves many business purposes in the country, ranging from networking, advertising, and job-hunting.
For many small businesses, social media influencers, and digital marketers, Twitter holds their biggest client base. They reach out to prospects, meet customers, promote and sell their products and services on the micro-blogging platform.
Almost all Nigerian big brands, such as banks, telecoms, and insurance companies, have a Twitter account, which they use for the same business purposes, including advertising job openings. Experts say the effects could be worse, given that many Nigerian small businesses still grapple with the economic downturns of COVID-19.
Backlashes follow the Twitter restriction in Nigeria
The suspension has been generating reactions from various quarters locally and internationally.
The diplomatic missions of the E.U., U.K., USA, Canada, and Ireland in a joint statement condemned the ban, affirming that “the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world.” The diplomats also added that “these rights apply online as well as offline.”
The Biden administration also raised its displeasure over "the ongoing suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government and subsequent threats to arrest and prosecute Nigerians who use Twitter" in a statement on June 10, 2021.
"Twitter is one of the biggest platforms for social and political interaction in Nigeria. It gives the youths a voice on various existential social and political issues affecting the country. " - Olusegun Akinfenwa (Tweet this | Share on WhatsApp)
Many prominent Nigerians, including religious leaders, legal experts, and politicians, especially in the opposition parties, have also condemned the shutdown.
“We should also remember that Twitter has gone beyond a source of communication for many of our hardworking youths in Nigeria,” Oyo State governor Seyi Makinde said.
Makinde described the platform as a source of livelihood for many Nigerians, regardless of their religious or political leanings. “Nigerian youths and digital communications organizations earn a living from being able to use the platform to post communications on behalf of their clients,” Makinde added.
Nigerians accessing Twitter via VPN services
Meanwhile, as the ban enters weeks without a resolution, more Nigerians are defying the government order by using virtual private networks (VPN) to access Twitter. VPN enables them to bypass the restriction of their telecom service providers. In reaction to this, the government threatened to prosecute those doing so.
This has further generated reactions against the administration, as some users also dared the government to prosecute them. Many legal experts in the country said they weren’t aware of any law in Nigeria making the use of Twitter an offense. The ECOWAS Court of Justice has also ruled against the government's threat after a human rights organization, SERAP, challenged the planned crackdown.
Reports say that the two parties both working out plans to resolve the issue. A timely resolution to the faceoff will bring a sigh of relief to many Nigerians who continue to bear the effects of the suspension.
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