Nigeria’s decision to suspend Twitter indefinitely could backfire on the government and cost the country economically through new investments in its tech sector. The Nigerian Government suspended Twitter on June 4th. The official Press release gave only a vague justification and cited threats to “Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
Although only a minority of Nigerians use Twitter, they are among the vocal and most politically active segment of the population. Many young people have recently used Twitter and other social media to organize anti-government protests. And Nigeria is among the top performers in Africa in attracting investment for technology startups. The ban could endanger this status.
The government made little effort to hide the likely main reason behind the ban: that of the social media giant decision delete a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari just days earlier. In the tweet, Buhari appeared to be threatening violent retaliation against the breakaway of a southeastern group alleged recent attacks through government institutions and staff. Twitter claimed the news broke its rules.abusive behavior“.
The move angered many in the Nigerian government. Criticism of information and culture minister Lai Mohammed “Double standards” and complained that Twitter had not deleted any letters from a separatist leader. He also claimed that it was the 2020 #EndSARS Movement Against Police Violence. The potential that social media has to mobilize such a large, youth-driven protest movement shook the ruling establishment. Officials may hope a ban will be choked off growing protest movement against increasing uncertainty.
The deletion of Buhari’s tweet also followed on Twitter Announcement April 2021 that it would have its first African office in Accra, not Lagos. In his justification, Twitter quoted Ghana’s support for “freedom of speech, online freedom and the open internet”. The choice was made despite the fact that Nigeria likely has more Twitter users – 40 million, to make a count – as Ghana has people.
The shutdown challenge
Soon after the ban went into effect, traffic was on the site clogged on leading local cellular networks such as MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile, although access via some Internet service providers was still possible.
Nigeria’s Attorney General Abubakar Malami promised to prosecute who violate the prohibition.
However, to what extent the ban prevents Nigerians who want to use the platform from doing so is questionable. Targeted punishment of users would be a gigantic and costly task.
It may also not be technically feasible. Within hours, the Internet searches for “VPNs” – virtual private networks that allow users to disguise their online identity and circumvent country-specific restrictions – swollen across the country. Several videos appeared on YouTube explaining the pros and cons of VPNs to Twitter-hungry Nigerians.
Nigerians also have many other digital opportunities to exchange views and information from the popular WhatsApp to the Indian microblogging service Koo, who quickly announced plans to expand into the country.
Not so hidden costs
The widespread use of VPNs would be associated with significant costs. Poor Nigerians are likely to turn to free VPNs instead of paid ones, which are more secure. This exposes them Data theft and other forms of chopping.
And the use of VPNs can dragging Internet connection.
Not only is this a nuisance, it could have a significant impact on economic productivity. Nigeria economy and even governments are increasingly reliant on digital media. Some noticed that irony that the government is banning their Twitter with a tweet. NetBlocks tracking internet governance estimated that every day Twitter is shut down will cost the Nigerian economy over 2 billion naira ($ 6 million).
Digital media is essential for information sharing, marketing, customer service and remote working, especially in public health and safety emergencies. Shutdowns can slow down trade, lower productivity and ultimately cost jobs.
In the longer term, the ban could seriously affect Nigeria’s ability to attract investment, if only briefly otherwise promising digital economy. Investors can turn to the markets without the threat of sudden regulatory disruptions to the digital economy. In other words, choosing Twitter for Ghana would only be the beginning.
Predictably, the ban led to widespread anger on the platform. But Twitter users are a minority of the Nigerian population and are not representative of the general public.
A Survey 2020 by the independent, Africa-based research organization Afrobarometer found that:
- 35% of Nigerians said they used a social media service at least a few times a week to get news.
- Men used it slightly more often than women – 39% versus 31%.
- More young people used it – 46% of 18-25 year olds versus 8% of those over 65.
- The weekly access rate was higher for Nigerians living in urban areas (54% versus 18% in rural areas), who had at least a secondary education (57% versus 12% with a primary education or below) and the lowest levels of lived poverty (51% versus 25% for those with the highest scores).
Still, it is unlikely that Nigerians will silently accept the ban. Afrobarometer research also shows that Nigerians, like most Africans, against government restrictions on media in general. The respondents spoke out strongly against restrictions on digital media. More than Three fifths (61%) said the internet and social media should be “unrestricted”, while only 23% agreed that “access should be regulated by the government”.
Nigerians also particularly liked social media. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of those who heard about social media said the technology’s impact was more positive than negative. This rate is the highest among the 18 countries surveyed in 2019/20.
Nigeria’s move is part of one worrying trend of governments in Africa throttling social media use. So far this year Niger, the Republic of the Congo and Uganda Have limited digital media around elections. Senegal did this around anti-government protests.
These shutdowns are usually justified as necessary to ensure national security in sensitive times. But they transparently serve the established interests by Restriction of democratic freedoms all about information, printing and assembly.
With its ban, the Buhari government has escalated a spit into something much more serious. The damage to economically and democratic development downtimes can be significant even with short blockages. Loss of productivity and trade threaten Nigeria’s economic recovery, and the reputational damage to its ability to attract investment into its digital economy could last for a long time.
On the political side, the government risks angering the most vocal and engaged demographic, with the likelihood that even most non-users will oppose the ban.
Given these costs, it’s not even clear whether the government is ahead of the game.
As a Nigerian programmer and web developer Put it:
In the long run, this could be a blow to the Nigerian government, not Twitter.