2023 GOVERNORSHIP AND
STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS
Twitter Ban: An unnecessary detraction, an assault to basic rights,
TWENTY-TWO years after exiting military dictatorship, Nigeria is gradually but steadily slipping back into full-scale repression. Stung by the international shame accompanying Twitter’s removal of a repugnant tweet by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), the regime retaliated by suspending the operations of the microblogging site in Nigeria. The ban is rash, undemocratic and anti-investment; it further jeopardises the country’s international reputation, assaults basic rights and worsens the economic adversity. It is, indeed, an unnecessary detraction.
Widely condemned at home and abroad, it has forced some of the 33 million Nigerian social media users to bypass the ban using the Virtual Private Networks and led to a new hashtag, #TwitterBan. Irked by the ineffectiveness of its order, the regime further threatened to arrest and prosecute VPN users. Clearly, this regime is fast losing its legitimacy.
In the now deleted incendiary post, Buhari had tweeted, “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.” Coming from a President, this was unguarded. Twitter, which had also taken down posts by Donald Trump, a former United States president, deleted it for rule violation.
The regime attracted considerable scorn when the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension on Friday and accused Twitter of “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
Rational voices, including those of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Bar Association, civil society groups and lawyers have rightly criticised the order. Dismay has also come from foreign missions that strongly supported the fundamental human rights of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria, as well as around the world. The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Enoch Adeboye, argues correctly that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
But more pernicious was the regime’s summoning of the envoys of these countries. Impetuous, disproportionate, and devoid of sober, mature reflection, the suspension has reputational, economic, and legal implications, all negative. It is an attack on democracy and a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens to ventilate their views and conduct their businesses through a lawful platform.
Shamefully, it adds Nigeria to the list of some authoritarian countries where Twitter has been suspended or banned. As an aspiring liberal democracy, it is embarrassing to be found in the same club of social media oppressors like China, Iran, North Korea and Turkmenistan.
Buhari has not changed. In his first outing as military head of state 1984/85, his hatred of free speech and press freedom manifested in the infamous draconian Decree 4 by which he sought to muzzle the media. As lawyers have pointed out, the action violated the 1999 Constitution; they question the President’s power to suspend a tech platform under the law.
Moreover, the threat to arrest and prosecute anyone continuing to use Twitter has been contested on the grounds that there is no existing law that criminalises the use of a social platform or VPN in Nigeria.
It is also a gross personalisation of governance; Personal ego should not dictate national policy. Twitter and Facebook not only deleted the offensive tweets of a sitting US president, Trump, but they also shut down his account altogether. Strong institutions prevented Trump from the irresponsible use of state institutions to punish them for perceived personal affront. Nigeria advertises itself as a banana republic with Buhari’s intemperate action.
Economically, it is devastating. A digital advocacy group, Paradigm Initiative, estimates that Nigeria loses $250,600 per hour due to the Twitter ban. This arises from its use as an advertising and networking platform by local and foreign businesses. It is expected to devastate the SMEs sector that according to the Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria relies on Twitter among others to advertise products and services and creates over 70 per cent of formal jobs.
It will also hit the youth segment of the population the hardest who already suffer 42.5 per cent jobless rate and are the biggest users of tech tools to survive. Research by Briter Bridges and AfriLabs found that of the 643 tech hubs in Africa by 2019, Nigeria had the highest with 90 hubs. It accounted for 17 per cent of the $1 billion raised by African tech start-ups in 2020, said Techpoint Africa. Nigerian tech firms, run by youths, raised $219 million in the first quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, foreign direct investment desperately needed for infrastructure and job creation has been falling. From $4.45 billion in 2016, it crashed to $2 billion in 2018, rose to $3.3 billion in 2019 and dropped again to $2.2 billion in 2020 as per World Bank data.
The NESG, leading economists and the organised private sector are unanimous that this move will further dampen investor interest in an economy wracked by insecurity, corruption, and poor ease of doing business.
Under Buhari, Nigeria is sliding towards fascism. There must be vigorous push-back. All lawful means must be brought to bear by all stakeholders to preserve our hard-earned freedoms. The National Assembly should stand with the people they claim to represent and oppose this with all the legal means at their disposal. Civil society groups and the NBA should quickly make good their pledges to challenge the imprudent action in courts. Buhari and his regime need to understand that modern governance is run on rational, scientific considerations, not on personal whims. Actions and their implications on the general good of the country must be thoroughly analysed. Social media, technology and innovation are the engines of modern society.
It should be made clear that Twitter is not a government actor. It, therefore, has the right to make its rules of engagement. Buhari needs to rethink. Instead of lashing out at Twitter, he should apply himself to how to genuinely rescue the country from the pangs of insecurity. He should reconsider the order and lift the ban on Twitter unconditionally
Contents provided and/or opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine or any employee thereof.
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