By Adebayo Obajemu
Finally the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari last week Friday in a nation-wide broadcast to mark the 61 independence anniversary of Nigeria lifted the ban on Twitter.
Recall that on 5 June 2021, the Nigerian government officially put an indefinite ban on Twitter, restricting it from operating in Nigeria after the social media platform deleted tweets made by the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari warning the South eastern people of Nigeria, predominantly Igbo people, of a potential repeat of the 1967 Biafra Civil war due to the ongoing insurgency in Southeastern Nigeria.
The Nigerian government claimed that the deletion of the President’s tweets factored into their decision but it was ultimately based on “a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences”, citing the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
The ban was condemned by Amnesty International as well as the British and Canadian missions and the Swedish Embassy in Nigeria. Two domestic organizations – the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Nigerian Bar Association – challenged the ban in court. Twitter itself called the ban “deeply concerning.”
Former U.S. President Donald Trump praised the ban. “Congratulations to the country of Nigeria, who just banned Twitter because they banned their President”, Trump said.
Nigeria’s Information and Cultural Minister, Lai Mohammed stated the ban will be lifted once Twitter submits to local licencing, registration and conditions. “It will be licenced by the broadcasting commission, and must agree not to allow its platform to be used by those who are promoting activities that are inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria.”
The current Nigerian government has long held concerns over the use of Twitter in the country.
The last year End SARS protest began on Twitter, and got amplified in late 2020 when it had 48 million tweets in ten days. The current government has floated the idea of social media regulation on different occasions prior to banning Twitter. Attempts to pass an anti-social media bill in the past have failed majorly due to massive outcry on Twitter.
Days before the ban, the country’s minister of information called Twitter’s activities in Nigeria suspicious, citing its influence on the End SARS protests.
Three days after the ban, it was reported that the ban has cost the country over N6 billion and will also contribute to the worsening unemployment in the country. ExpressVPN reported an over 200 percent increase in web traffic and searches for VPN spiked across the country.
On October 1 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari in his Independence day broadcast said Twitter must meet the Nigerian government’s five conditions before the suspension of the social media platform will be lifted.
The conditions includes; Twitter must pay attention to national security and cohesion; Registration, physical presence and representation in Nigeria; Fair taxation; Dispute resolution and Local content.
But beyond the hoopla and government’s bravado, the real cost of the ban may have been in billions of Dollars which the Nigerian government and businesses may have lost.
According to many accounts, the country lost N150.46bn ($366.88m) since the ban on Twitter took effect on June 5.This figure was calculated based on the NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool. According to the tool, it costs Nigeria’s economy N102.77m ($250,600) every hour to ban of Twitter.
It has been 1,464 hours (61 days) since the ban. In that time period, Nigeria may have lost N150.46bn.
The NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool estimates the economic impact of an internet disruption, mobile data blackout or app restriction in a nation using indicators from the World Bank, International Telecommunication Union, Eurostat and U.S. Census.
Immediately after the ban, telecommunication companies started blocking access to Twitter on June 5, after they received a directive from the Nigerian Communications Commission to block access to Twitter.Apart from taking Nigeria to ECOWAS Court, many other litigations followed.
The Federal Government told a Federal High Court in Lagos that it had not stopped Nigerians from using Twitter, adding that many Nigerians still used it every day.This was in a counter-affidavit the government deposed to in response to an originating motion filed by human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong.
The affidavit said, “The applicant (Effiong) and the class he seeks to represent can still operate those Twitter accounts from anywhere in the world and even from Nigeria.
“Nigerians are still tweeting, even at this moment as the ban on Twitter is not aimed at intimidating Nigerians or an infringement on the rights of Nigerians to express their opinion.”
According to a report by Statista, Nigeria has about 33 million active social media users, with about 26 per cent on Twitter.Since the ban, some Nigerians have migrated to the use of Virtual Private Networks.
Express VPN said in June that it recorded an increase of over 200 per cent in web traffic from Nigeria since the Federal Government banned Twitter.
VPN works by changing the location of devices they run on. Small and Medium-sized Enterprises have said this has not been good for their businesses.
Twitter has had a beneficial effects on businesses, like all other social media platforms.
Financial planner, Kalu Aja said, “Social media enables the brand to talk directly to consumers. It’s direct marketing, specific and targeted. There is no organisation on earth, profit or not-for-profit, without some form of advocacy via social media.
“The Twitter ban raises a narrative about doing business in Nigeria, and it’s not a good narrative. Specifically, Twitter and social media allow Small and Medium-scale Enterprises and sole proprietors with zero marketing budgets but a smartphone to build and communicate a brand promise.”
Adesina Wumi, who sells beauty products on Twitter said, “Twitter was something that changed my fortune for the better, it’s very important to my business. I got a lot of customers from Twitter.
“People coming to my DM have reduced a lot; VPN has reduced lots of people and followers on Twitter.”
Another petty business owner, KehindeAyodeji, who sells barbing products on Twitter stated that, “Twitter my brother was very important to me and helpful. I got more than 65 per cent sales from Twitter. I use Instagram too but Imore sales from Twitter.
The removal of the Buhari’s tweet was widely seen as part of a larger discourse around the role of social media in politics and the national conversation. Indeed, in recent years, the global community has witnessed social media platforms as Twitter having major impact on the trajectory of democracy and politics, social movements, foreign relations, businesses, and economies.
Many tweets criticized President Buhari’s actions as an infringement on their freedom of expression and access to information—both crucial pillars of democracy. Professor David Fiki, a communication scholar says “The ban was one of the biggest highlights of the administration’s authoritarian streak, an attempt to gag individuals’ right to free speech.”
Political activists have the most dominant voice in the conversation around condemnation of the ban, while institutional actors and organizations have some of the smallest.
While Nigerian citizens and activists continued to use the platform, while the ban lasted, the Nigerian government had effectively shut itself out from the conversation with only the governor of Oyo State, SeyiMakinde, still maintaining a presence on Twitter.
The ban itself had led to damage of Nigeria’s image on the world stage, as key diplomatic and economic allies like the EU and U.S. have condemned the ban at a time when the country “needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria.
The global spotlight from the ban also highlights the government’s evident ineffectiveness in addressing serious economic, social, security, and political challenges.
The ban has also affected Nigeria’s growth as foreign investors pivot business and funding to other African countries, harming Nigeria’s role as the unofficial tech hub of Africa.
A good night example of global rejection of lack of openness and transparency of the government of Nigeria was the Twitter’s choice of Ghana for its regional headquarters even though Ghana has a much smaller population and economy than Nigeria but was perceived to have an attractive environment for external investors.
“Many startup business models which required an active social media presence, could not enjoy the benefits while the ban lasted”, says Ambrose Omokordion Chief Research Officer at Investa.
Small- and medium-sized Nigerian businesses have been particularly affected, as they rely on Twitter to raise awareness of their brands and for customer service and other engagement.
According to Telecompaper, Nigeria’s e-commerce sector has lost over N2 billion ($4.86 million) daily since the ban, as businesses have had to severely cut their operations or stop them completely, otherwise risking potential fines and arrest.
“These losses put added pressure on an already volatile Nigerian economy, as unemployment rates reach 35 percent—among the world’s highest—particularly affecting its youth”, Omokordion said.