The Nigerian Government thinks Twitter is the greatest source of its misery. After straining at the leash for months, it couldn’t resist swatting the microblogging platform with a ban last week.
But what does the ban mean, really? It means that about 40 million users in Nigeria who are mostly young people would be unable to access the service through local service providers.
This figure is more than the total number that voted for President Muhammadu Buhari in the last two elections combined, over half the total number of those who voted in the general elections of 2019, and nearly three times the number that voted him back in office for his second term in the presidential poll.
The ban means Buhari’s government is afraid of listening to its own citizens, especially the young ones. According to NOI Polls in November 2019: “Twitter users in Nigeria said that it is most effective in gaining attention for an issue or trending topic.”
This was followed by those who said the service is used to “communicate grievances or dissatisfaction”, and then, those who said they use it for “activism and advocacy.”
The ban means more. It means that a government which is currently battling unemployment at 33 percent, doesn’t really bother what happens to nearly 300,000 of its citizens who, by its own statistics, earn a living from ICT. Buhari’s government has been a compulsive job loss-maker and yet, it has no qualms making things worse. That is what the ban means.
Banning Twitter in an already impoverished country is hardly in keeping with the President’s promise to lift 100 million people out of poverty. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the government advertised the 15 percent contribution of ICT to the GDP as proof of its seriousness to modernise and diversify the economy.
And just a few months down the line an irritation by one nuisance called Nnamdi Kanu throws the government into a tantrum that is currently costing it $250,600 every hour. The Twitter ban tell us that the government is so confused it’s even prepared and happy to pay for its own mockery.
The ban also means that the government does not know its own history, or does not care. One of the major criticisms against Buhari when he was running for president was his poor record on press freedom and human rights.
He responded, quite reasonably, that the draconian laws on his watch as military head of state reflected the very nature of military regimes. He added, however, that he had since become a “reformed democrat.” If he could ban Twitter for deleting his tweet, and he is a reformed democrat, what would he have done if he was not reformed?
His action also means he doesn’t quite understand Nigeria’s struggle against tyranny, or he doesn’t care. No leader, military or civilian, who has ruled with an iron hand has ended well. Before Twitter, Nigerians used plays, drama, songs and other art forms, apart from a vibrant press, to express themselves in spite of government. Banning Twitter only instigates their creative genius.
Nigerians are voted the world’s happiest bunch because they have a big mouth and they’re not shy to use it. It was this gift that was generously deployed against then President Goodluck Jonathan by Lai Mohammed, the opposition party spokesman, and members of the All Progressives Congress, making Jonathan one of the world’s most abused presidents. Yet, he took it in his stride.
The Twitter ban means, more tellingly, that Buhari’s government is still in the mode described by Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai in 2010, when he said Buhari, then the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, did not know the difference between a Blackberry phone and the blackberry fruit.
Buhari’s government is apparently lost between Twitter the microblogging site and twitter the bird. Twitter is not a spirit or a committee that decides whose tweet to delete and whose to leave. There is a system for handling complaints.
A report on its action site, for example, showed that between January and June 2020, 93 countries filed 12,657 requests for information from accounts, presumably for matters related to perceived violations.
Complaints may be filed under the company’s emergency or routine action rules. Under the former, requests for disclosure of information about accounts are provided if information is given to support good faith belief of imminent threat; and in the latter case, or routine non-emergency, requests are treated when they are backed by legal demands issued by subpoenas, courts, warrants, and so on.