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Twitter Ban in Nigeria, the New Digital Civilization

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, last week announced the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. The government ban Twitter after the company deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari for breaching the site's rules while the social networking company said violated its “abusive behavior” policy.

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Free access to information is very important in today's world, however irresponsible use of social media can cause mayhem in any society. Given this new platform for engagement with government and institutions, there is growing disillusionment with rulers and governments. In the past, the abuse of social media by users in some countries have prompted governments and other authorities to take unilateral action to block Internet access to social media platforms. For instance, China, Iran, North Korea, and Turkmenistan governments have blocked access to Twitter as of 2019.

Digital media allows for the exchange of information in a wide range of forms. The information can be for purposes such as entertainment, illustration or communication. These includes everything you see online - online advertising, search engines, social media, video streaming services, and websites. Since 2008 when the Nigerian information portal was launched by the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency and managed by the Federal Ministry of Information, the use of digital media relations by the Federal Government was kick-started. From that point, other digital media relations channels were created like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts to supply information about the activities of government to Nigerians, and vice-versa.

On Wednesday, June 2, Twitter removed a post from the President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists over recent attacks on government facilities and personnel. “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Biafra war,” he wrote. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.” The President Muhammadu was a major general during the Biafra war, the civil war where millions of Nigerians were killed. Buhari indicates that many of those misbehaving in the country were too young and did not witness the gruesomeness of Nigeria’s 1967-70 war, saying he would “treat them in the language they would understand.”

Nigeria’s ministry of information and culture, a spokesman for Minister Lai Mohammed told a press conference on Thursday that the social media giant has deliberately ignored inciting tweets by Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and his cohorts.
Mohammed claimed Twitter displayed the same biases it did during the #EndSARS protests. Last year, Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey supported the #EndSARS protests against police brutality during in October. The #EndSars movement, started as a Security Sector Reform movement and has morphed into a cry for good governance in Nigeria.

Two days after, the Nigerian government officially puts an indefinite ban on micro blogging platform, restricting it from operating in Nigeria. The Senior Special Assistant to the Nigerian President on Media & Publicity, Garba Shehu, noted in a statement that, "Major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities. They cannot be allowed to continue to facilitate the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages capable of inciting whole communities against each other, leading to loss of many lives. This could tear some countries apart."

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The statement was supported by over 17,000 social media users on Facebook while over 8,000 did not support the decision according to President Buhari’s Facebook page as of June 8, 2021 (10AM).

According to Twitter, sensitive media, including graphic violence and adult content: You may not post media that is excessively gory or share violent or adult content within live video or in profile or header images. Media depicting sexual violence and/or assault is also not permitted. In contrast, when individuals feel that their reputation is damaged because of a reckless comment made on Twitter or other social media channels, they may consider pursuing a defamation lawsuit against the party posting the comments.

Most Nigerians now use Twitter through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) after the ban of the government. VPNs encrypt internet traffic and disguise online identity. This establishes an opportunity to protect the network connection when using public networks. Making it more difficult for third parties to track your activities online and steal data.Various video versions have appeared on YouTube, educating the Nigerian Twitter users how to use VPNs. However, the Nigerian attorney general’s office has ordered the immediate prosecution of Nigerians who try to bypass the government’s Twitter ban after the government suspended its operations.

Meanwhile, Nigerian public opinions on the matter has attracted various issues such as lack of patriotism by some citizens, lack of basis for disadvantages the ban will have in the economy, new technology frontier, human right violation and some describing the decision to suspend the hugely popular social media platform’s operations as an attempt to silence criticism of the government.

Expert says, the level of patriotism, of Nigeria citizens is low. Without mincing words, this has contributed to the development of the country negatively. If Nigerians can be patriotic the country will have meaningful development.

Adeosun Michael Rotimi in his own views said, "The truth is that we have a bunch of unpatriotic hypocrites who value a social media App more than their country. It does not matter to them if their country is burnt down. This is one of the damages of allowing hatred and prejudice rule over sense of reasoning and patriotism."

A Nigerian lawyer, Kurtis Adigha said, "What happens if Twitter decides to shut down or it is forced to close, will the Nigerian economy shut down, too? There is an opportunity hidden in the decision of the FG for Nigerians."

In Nigeria, Twitter users are nearly 40 million and the country is home to Africa’s largest tech hub. Twitter announced in April 2021, that it was setting up its Africa headquarters in Ghana. The country has been among the best-performing African countries in attracting investments for technology start-up business. Analyst says investment in technology sector could be imperilled by the government’s decision.

Technology entrepreneurs will now need to convince investors about regulatory risks. Thereby reducing their ability to attract funding and grow their markets. It is estimated that each day of the Twitter shutdown will cost the Nigerian economy over 2 billion Naira ($6 million US), according to NetBlocks, which tracks internet governance.

The Foreign Minister, Godfrey Onyeama, on June 7 announced in a meeting with representatives of foreign embassies that the Twitter ban would be lifted if the social media company would foster the “responsible” use of its platform.

“The condition would be responsible use of the social media and that really has to be it. We are not saying that Twitter is threatening the country or any such thing; why we have taken this measure is to stop them to be used as platforms for destabilisation and facilitation of criminality or encouragement of criminalities.”

He further emphasized that, the Federal Government wants to use Social Media for good, citing that Nigerian lives matter and the government will do everything to preserve Nigerian lives, “when we feel our goals are threatened, actions need to be taken.” The National Broadcasting Commission began drafting new rules that will require Twitter Inc. to have a license to operate, after the government banned the platform in the West African nation, the country’s government said.

The Nigeria’s broadcast regulator ordered all broadcasters to suspend “patronage of Twitter immediately” and stop using the social media company as a “source of information gathering for news and programs,” as noted in a statement published on Facebook on June 7.

However, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a local rights group, and 176 concerned Nigerians have filed the lawsuit at the Economic Community of West African States Community Court of Justice in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja on June 8 against President Muhammadu Buhari over the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and criminalisation of Nigerians still using Twitter. SERAP is calling for an interim injunction restraining government from implementing the ban, official statement noted.

“The suspension of Twitter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter to assess government policies, expose corruption, and criticize acts of official impunity by the agents of the Federal Government,” the suit read, according to the group.

According to the statement released on June 9, by the Minority caucus in the National Assembly, which was made up of the Senate and House of Representatives opposing members described the ban on twitter as draconian and unacceptable while dismissing the threat of prosecution of violators.

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