NIGERIANS appear to be waiting endlessly for President Muhammadu Buhari to unban Twitter, 140 days after he suspended its operations indefinitely in the country.
The Federal Government has promised at least three times to unban the medium in the past 10 weeks, but it failed.
On August 11, Minister of Information Lai Mohammed pledged that the government would lift the ban ‘in a matter of days.’
Mohammed also reassured the lifting of the suspension on September 15.
Similarly, in his Independence Day broadcast on October 1, President Buhari said he had directed that the suspension be lifted if the conditions given to Twitter were met.
Buhari said Twitter and his technical team had addressed several key issues: national security and cohesion; registration, physical presence and representation; fair taxation; dispute resolution; and local content.
The ban has remained more than three weeks after the president’s broadcast.
Buhari had suspended Twitter for allegedly being used for activities that could undermine Nigeria’s security and corporate existence.
Many citizens claimed it was a revenge over Buhari’s post deleted by Twitter about 48 hours earlier.
Buhari had published a controversial remark supposedly evoking the trauma of the 30-month-long civil war fought by the country four decades back and mocking the South-East region most affected by the crisis.
Nigerians protested the ban, but the government stood its ground.
Apart from being a source of livelihood for thousands of citizens who conducted their businesses online and a means of social interaction, Twitter was a potent weapon for Nigerians to fight injustice and misgovernance.
Twitter use and influence peaked in 2020 when the nation faced the #EndSARS protest.
Apart from being one of the most vital tools for monitoring the protest, the medium provided shreds of evidence on human rights infringements, attacks, carnage, and arsons into which the protest transmuted.
Human rights lawyers and media experts have argued that government’s efforts to frustrate free speech in Nigeria crystallised in the Twitter ban.
The ICIR had reported how Nigerians, the media and civil society organisations had opposed the enactment of laws capable of whittling down media power and citizens’ freedoms to demand good governance.
The Buhari government has been variously accused of human rights abuses and ignoring court orders that sought to correct such infringements.
A report by The ICIR had, in May, detailed how human rights had worsened under the president.
Quoting data from the Netblocks Cost of Shutdown Tool, The Guardian newspaper reported on the day the ban clocked 100 days that the country had lost over $600 million in revenue.
Apart from stopping millions of Twitter users in the country, economic experts said the ban had pushed many people out of their jobs amidst the worsening unemployment crisis facing the nation.
While outrage grew over the ban, the government introduced Koo – a China-powered microblogging service – as an alternative to Twitter. But the platform has not enjoyed good patronage from the citizens.
Twitter had deleted tweets by former US President Donald Trump and locked his account. Though he protested, he did not ban the service in his country.
After losing his re-election bid in November 2020, he announced a plan to launch the ‘Truth Social’ two days ago, which he believes would compete with Twitter and other social media.
This newspaper reported on Friday how the proposed medium’s share price surged hours after the announcement.
Despite the ban, many Nigerians have bypassed the government by using Twitter through a virtual private network (VPN).
Two prominent Christian leaders in the country confronted the government and vowed to continue to use the service shortly after the ban.
They are the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God Enock Adeboye and the General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry William Kumuyi.
While Adeboye said his action was in consonance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Kumuyi claimed the content of his church’s Twitter handle targeted a global audience in more than five continents over 100.
At the time of filing this report, the Twitter team was yet to respond to The ICIR’s enquiries seeking to know what had transpired between the organisation and the government.
Twitter’s Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey and other senior officials of the organisation did not respond to our reporter’s messages sent to their handles. Reacting to the ban, a tech expert Ibrahim Maigari Ahmadu said it was difficult to quantify the value of what the ban had caused the country.
He said many businesses and influencers depended on Twitter for revenues.
“Twitter is a default advert platform that you just put your brand, and you just tweet something, and you sell. The ban has tremendous negative impacts. You can imagine if you don’t have Whatsapp now.”
He, however, said the ban was good for the image of the nation.
According to him, Twitter had been careless in its operations in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
He blamed the leadership of the firm for not respecting countries’ sovereign status,
advising all social media platforms operating in the country to set up offices in the nation.
He said doing so would promote job creation and revenue generation for the country.
He further said that people should be concerned with the benefits of the resolution of the ban by the firm and the government as much as they were concerned with the ban.
“Twitter is the most expensive platform if you are going to advertise. I spend money a lot on social media advertisements. Twitter is the most expensive among Facebook, Instagram and the rest. Without a physical office here, it’s like we are paying them and (we are not getting anything in return). Even if it means getting our young men and women employed there, there will be a transfer of technology and skills. I think they should do more diplomacy and management of their brand in countries.
“They can’t do something like this in China, for instance. China banned Google, Facebook and the rest. Nobody could do anything about it. I’m not saying we should be that intolerant, but I think it takes two to tango. I think, on my own, as CEO of a tech company, the government should unban Twitter because of the people who are doing their businesses on the platform.”
A Lagos-based technology entrepreneur Obi Okechukwu said the economic impact of Twitter ban was huge.
He said the major issue was that government was intolerant to criticisms.
“For me, the main issue is not about Twitter setting up in Nigeria, but the matter is about shutting down voices. The government did not ban Twitter because it did not set up in Nigeria, but did so as a result of president’s tweet that was deleted,” he said.
“Secondly, when a government bans Twitter, cryptocurrency and other means through which young people and brands make their daily bread, what would you think of that government?
“Dictatorial governments across the world hide under lame excuses to ban social media platforms, and that is the situation here. A government that values its citizens does not need to be reminded to unban Twitter.”