By Adebayo Obajemu
The ban of Twitter, a micro-blogging and social site by the current administration in Nigeria is affecting Nigerians beyond media access and freedom of expression which has been the main focus of the international community. There are three main areas the ban has affected most of the users of the platform.
For Prof. Adeagbo Moritiwon of the University of Ilorin, it shows that this administration is bent on killing businesses, and in the end, the economy. On the second plane, the administration is against free speech and democracy, the plank on which it came to power, and lastly, it reveals the medieval nature of those in positions of power.
But beyond snide condemnations, many Nigerians are alarmed that the struggling economy and businesses will further take a dip in the face of the ban.
The suspension, which was announced on Friday, June 4 2021, has drawn widespread criticism from home and abroad and has once again cast Nigeria into the international spotlight as a nation that stifles free speech and the growth of businesses.
In making the announcement of the indefinite suspension, the government did not consider the far-reaching socio-economic impact the ban would have on small businesses in the country which rely on the social media platform for various stages of their operations.
As the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, pointed out in his speech which also called for a reversal of the #TwitterBan:
“We should also remember that Twitter has gone beyond a source of communication for many of our hardworking youths in Nigeria. It has become a source of livelihood for many, irrespective of their political affiliations or religious leanings. Nigerian youths and digital communications organisations earn a living from being able to use the platform to post communications on behalf of their clients.”
Babajide Sanwoolu, governor of Lagos State also urged the federal government to reconsider the ban in view of its implications for businesses.
The fears of these governors as with those of other well-meaning Nigerians, called the FG’s attention to the adverse economic effect of the ban, a bad situation significantly worsened by the dismal economic shape of the country.
John Ayeokan, a cobbler stationed in Sango Ota, Ogun state told this newspaper that , “I get about 70% of my sales and nearly 100% of referrals through Twitter. The ban will cripple my business because I do not think the vast majority of Twitter users in Nigeria are tech-savvy enough to bypass it with a VPN. We shall be in trouble if this ban is not reversed.”
A media influencer, who pleaded anonymity said his influencing gig was the perfect side hustle for him, as the earnings from there helped him hedge against inflation in Nigeria. He said the ban would accelerate his relocation abroad.
“I have no choice but to relocate if this madness continues”, he said.
Other prominent people on Twitter also warned about the economic disadvantages of the Twitter ban.
On his part, Professor Mohammed Ohiare of the department of Political science, Kogi State University told BusinessHallmark that the government’s decision to suspend Twitter indefinitely could backfire on the government itself and cost the country economically in terms of new investments into its technology sector.
He said that while only a minority of Nigerians use Twitter, they form part of the most vocal and politically active segment of the population.
“We knew that many young people have employed Twitter and other social media recently to organise anti-government protests, such as #Endsars. And Nigeria has been among the best-performing African countries in attracting investments for technology start-up business. The ban could threaten that status.”
Recall that the administration made little effort to hide the likely main reason for the ban: the social media giant’s decision to delete a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari just days before.
In the tweet, Buhari seemed to threaten violent retaliation against a southeastern secessionist group’s alleged recent attacks on government facilities and personnel. Twitter claimed the message had violated its rules against “abusive behaviour.”
The move angered many in the Nigerian government. Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed criticised it as “double standards” and complained that Twitter had not deleted missives from a separatist leader. He also alleged that it supported the 2020 #EndSARS movement against police brutality.
The deletion of Buhari’s tweet also came on the heels of Twitter’s April 2021 announcement that it would be setting up its first African office in Accra, not Lagos. In its justification, Twitter cited Ghana’s support for “free speech, online freedom, and the open internet”. The choice came despite the fact that Nigeria probably has more Twitter users – 40 million, by one count – than Ghana has people.
David Anwulu, a banker said “the shutdown will be hard to enforce. And it could have dire consequences for Nigeria’s fragile democratic institutions and COVID-battered economy.”
Nigeria’s attorney general, Abubakar Malami, promised to prosecute those violating the ban, which would have included the likes of Pastors E.A. Adeboye and William F. Kumuyi, minority leaders in both chambers of the National Assembly and their members etc, who vowed to defy the ban. But he recanted by weekend.
But the extent to which the ban will stop Nigerians who want to use the platform from doing so is open to question. Targeting users for punishment would be a gargantuan and costly task. It might also not be technologically feasible.
Within hours, internet searches for “VPNs” – virtual private networks, which allow users to disguise their online identity and evade country-specific limits – surged across the country. Multiple videos appeared on YouTube, explaining the ins and outs of VPNs to Twitter-hungry Nigerians.
BusinessHallmark gathered that the widespread use of VPNs would come at significant costs. Poorer Nigerians are likely to turn to free VPNs instead of fee-based ones that are more secure. This will expose them to data theft and other forms of hacking.
Beyond being inconvenient, the use of VPN could hamper economic productivity. Nigeria’s economy and even government have become increasingly reliant on digital media. Some noted the irony that the government announced its ban on Twitter with a tweet.
NetBlocks, which tracks internet governance, estimated that each day of the Twitter shutdown will cost the Nigerian economy over N2 billion ($6 million).
Digital media are essential for information exchange, marketing, customer service, and remote work, especially during public health and safety emergencies. Shutdowns can slow commerce, cut productivity and ultimately cost jobs.
In the longer term, the ban – even if only brief – could seriously harm Nigeria’s ability to attract investment to its otherwise-promising digital economy. Investors may turn to markets without the threat of sudden regulatory disruptions to the digital economy.
Many commentators have since warned that the ban would worsen Nigeria’s youth unemployment problem as several businesses were built on Twitter’s platform.
Government would do well if it could to heed Governor Seyi Makinde’s warning to be mindful of how certain policies and actions will affect not only the livelihood of young hardworking Nigerian youths but also and very importantly, investor confidence, particularly at a time when the government could do with some influx of foreign direct investment into the country to fund its expenses and shore-up the country’s forex reserve.