Former Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Chukwudifu Oputa once stated that “It is good to have the strength of an elephant, but it is better to use it as wisely as the dove.” Several years after the late jurist made the statement, Nigerian leaders have continued to use their constitutional power (strength) for the wrong reasons. Or how else could we explain the seriousness federal government attaches to the non-use of twitter in Nigeria as against fighting insurgency and banditry ravaging all parts of the country.
By his action, President Muhammadu Buhari brings to mind, the activities of the inglorious military regime of 1984-85 which he superintended during which time, press freedom was curtailed, journalists were harassed and gagged and Nigerian citizens were reduced to subjects.
We recall that in the wake of the recent kidnap of some school children in Niger State and Kaduna State respectively, both the Niger state Governor Abubakar Sani Bello and parents of the kidnapped students requested federal government support to rescue the kidnapped students. But they got none. However, mere, just mere, deleting of president’s tweet from Twitter, hell was let loose. The source of economic survival to over 40 million Nigerian youths and small business owners was blocked. Every hour since the ban was announced, Nigeria loses about N90.7 million. The sum of N4.3billion was lost in the first 2 days. That Nigerians have continued to Tweet despite the ban is an indication of its rejection by the majority of Nigerians
If the truth must be told, Buhari has no right to deny other Nigerians the right of access to Twitter. The president and his aides must understand that we are not a conquered nation. Government cannot suspend twitter only to go home and bring belated reasons for its action. There are ways of dealing with Twitter without suppressing the rights of the citizens. The Nigerian constitution and the African Charter on Peoples’ rights which Nigeria ratified both guarantee freedom of information. Hence, the federal government’s action is an infringement on the fundamental human rights of citizens of this country
By banning Twitter and asking broadcast stations and government agencies to deactivate their Twitter accounts, the Buhari-led federal government is further hurting the already weak economy the more and sending the message that we are back to the old days of military dictatorship, during which the free press was the first target. Buhari is remembered for the enactment in 1984 of the infamous Decree 4 which gagged the press
We wonder why the Federal Government is acting desperately and making mistakes in the process. Banning the social or traditional media is an antiquated technique of social control, which adopts a standard military approach that cannot work in a democracy. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar Ghadaffi of Libya tried doing the same during the Arab Spring but failed. This one by Buhari will equally fail.
On 5 June 2021, the federal government officially put an indefinite ban on Twitter restricting it from operating in Nigeria after the social media platform deleted tweets made by president Buhari warning the southeastern people of Nigeria predominantly occupied by the Igbos of a potential repeat of the 1967 Biafran Civil War.
The ban has been condemned by Amnesty International as well as the British and Canadian missions and the Swedish Embassy in Nigeria. Two domestic organizations – the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Nigerian Bar Association – have indicated intent to challenge the ban in court while Twitter itself called the ban “deeply concerning”.
It is understandable why the President should be irritated with the country’s deteriorating security situation, especially with regards to the South-Eastern part of the country. Since the turn of the year, attacks by “unknown gunmen” have led to the death of scores of Police, Military as well as personnel of other security agencies in Nigeria. In addition, many public institutions, especially Police stations and offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), have been razed by the ravaging hoodlums in the South-East. The Nigerian Police has linked the attacks of public property, particularly in the South-East, to the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), a secessionist group that seeks to restore the defunct state of Biafra. The group, led by Nnamdi Kanu, is believed by security agencies to have commenced an arms struggle with the Nigerian state.
From unfolding events, it is becoming clear that the federal government action may not have been a well-thought-out response because this is a battle it would never win, and the reasons are quite obvious. As had been stated by various commentators, the Federal Government cannot afford to engage in a war with the international media, especially at this auspicious time. Insecurity, banditry, the poor economy, and secessionist agitations have negatively affected Nigeria’s image, locally and internationally. We need the international media as our friends rather than foes, particularly at this point.
Indeed, The speed and context of the Twitter ban by the Federal Government smirk of a hasty and jerky reaction, and retaliatory action against an organisation upholding the dictates of its policies. The reasons proffered by the Federal Government are, at best, conjectural and unrelated to the issues at hand. Misinformation and the spread of fake news, which may have affected national security, as claimed by some of the president’s handlers, would not fly as the reason for the ban if this came only a few days after Twitter pulled down the President’s tweet. People are wise to uncover the hidden reason, and many felt the government was not telling the whole truth, and it was disingenuous of the administration to pull such a stunt.
As a leading black nation, Nigeria should be worried about being counted among countries that have banned Twitter and other social media platforms, including China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Turkmenistan. How can Nigeria be listed among countries widely accepted as stifling free speech, discouraging dissent, and abusing human rights? These countries do not have democratic values and profiles, and Nigeria should be highly concerned about being placed within the same category.
Again, it is important to remember that Twitter has gone beyond a source of communication for many of the hardworking youths in Nigeria. It has become a source of livelihood for many, irrespective of their political affiliations or religious leanings. Nigerian youths and digital communications organisations earn a living from being able to use the platform to post communications on behalf of their clients. Others who do not have physical stores also rely on Twitter to give visibility to their products and services.
We urge the federal government to reverse the suspension of Twitter’s operations in the country as it was not well thought out. As a leader, President Buhari should go beyond emotional reactions to issues and think about how his actions will affect the people he leads and Nigeria’s international ratings socially and economically.
As a way forward, before taking any drastic action, the government should actively examine how such policy and action will affect both the citizens and investor confidence.