Long after the act must have been undone, it is almost certain that the gust of fumes and dust stirred by the ban on the operations of the microblogging site, Twitter, by the Federal Government of Nigeria will not have cleared away from the Nigerian socio-political space. As expected, the ban, since it was announced, has ignited a deluge of reactions from countless quarters and, given the far-reaching implications of this singular act, one can wager that, no matter how short-lived it eventually turns out to be, interrogation into its whys and wherefores may stay with us for a much longer time. It can also be said with some degree of assertiveness that the duel between these two elephants will not end without some grass becoming the worse for it.
It all started with the visit of the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to President Muhamadu Buhari for the purpose of bringing the latter up to speed on the state of preparation of the electoral umpire for the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Anambra state and the challenges arising from the destruction of its facilities in different parts of the South-East. In recent time, the entire South-East and parts of the neigbouring South-South has been a boiling cauldron from with steams of killings, arson, and wanton destruction oozing out ceaselessly. Buhari had, in response, said many of those stoking trouble today are too young to know the destruction and loss of lives that attended the civil war and that he would talk to them in the language they understood. The same statement was later posted on Twitter. Twitter adjudged the post to have run foul of its community rules and deleted it from its platform. The Nigerian government was swift in its reaction. It wasted no time in calling to question, Twitter’s mission in the country and went on to accuse it of a double standard as it has accommodated much more manifestly incendiary posts by others, especially by the leader of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu. The controversy about who is right and who is wrong between Twitter and FGN has since raged on and it does not appear it will abate so soon.
We cannot but raise posers for both sides. First with Twitter. How impartial in Nigerian affairs has Twitter been? Is it true, as alleged by FGN, that Twitter’s owner, Jack Dorsey, was an interested party and financier of last year’s EndSARS protest? How come Buhari’s tweet was promptly deleted while Kanu’s more inciteful posts were left intact until after the deletion of Buhari’s. Is it possible that Twitter and other social media platforms could be a willing tool in the hands of western forces eager to see Nigeria go up in flames and disintegrate so their prediction of Nigeria’s break-up long before now could become a fait accompli? In its statement after the ban, Twitter had promised to investigate the details of the ban and respond appropriately. While we wait for its response, it needs to be said that as a corporate entity, Twitter should not apply its community rules selectively. The old maxim, what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander should be applicable in the way and manner the global medium invokes its rules. If it had before now seen nothing wrong in lending its platform to irridentist expressions and champions under the guise of freedom of expression, doing a sudden volte-face to delete posts threatening to match up to such forces may not be a good way to promote equity, fairness and corporate reputation. Maybe at the end of it all, Twitter will need to reappraise its rules and how the same can be applied without giving room for suspicion of bias and partiality. So much for Twitter. Now to our own Federal Government.
While no one questions the right and responsibility of government to stand up to fomenters of trouble under any guise, the big problem here is doing so in a selective manner, just as Twitter has been accused. The government would probably have enjoyed the backing of many more compatriots in this tango with Twitter if it had been seen to be responding to threats to national security with the same passion, swiftness, and gusto regardless of the source of such threats. The grouse of many is that while government wastes no time in roaring fire, thunder, and brimstone against some group of trouble makers, its response to others of the same ilk and breed has largely been tardy, lame, and noncommittal. Many are still asking, could Pantami have still remained a Minister if he had been from the South East and the hyper-radical views, he once expressed were in support of IPOB? Does a government that has stood like an amused bystander while open negotiation goes on with terrorists, euphemized as bandits and kidnappers, in one part of the country possess the moral fibre to swiftly read the riot act to others of similar hue from another part of the country. How else do we define double standards?
It is equally difficult for many to believe the impartiality of a government whose principal actors especially its mouthpiece and chief law officer, have been acting as attorneys and spin doctors for a group perceived by many as aggressors and tormentors. Please rewind to the response of Abubakar Mallami to the recent resolution of Southern Governors to ban open grazing, and the point will sink better. Space will not permit us to say so much on Mallami and his likes in the presidency, but suffice it to say here that the cacophony of tunes that the Nigerian Presidency and its agents have been blaring forth leaves not a few completely befuddled about its commitment to tackling insecurity in the land.
As for the ban, could the government have been more circumspect in its reaction to the Twitter ‘provocation’? Perhaps yes! One of the reasons government gives for applying the brakes on full military response to the problem of banditry and kidnapping in different parts of the country is the collateral damage that will attend such. If the reason for collateral damage could temper response against banditry, could this same reason not have been invoked in the response to Twitter? Was a thought ever given to the role of the digital sector in our national economy before this ban was affected? By the time, the ban is reversed, many business owners and entrepreneurs such as online content creators, online marketers, bloggers, advertisers, etc, depending on Twitter will be counting their losses in billions of Naira. For an economy that is not enjoying the best of health and can hardly stand any further stress, this ought to have been factored into the equation before the ban.
There so many other issues we may want to interrogate from the FG/Twitter bout. For example, the question may be raised does the president’s public communication undergo the proper filtration process that would have purged it of all possibility of being misconstrued? What is the legion of public communication ‘experts’ feeding fat on taxpayers’ money doing in the presidency if they cannot ensure that what goes out of the presidency is devoid of ambiguities and is in compliance with the in-house rules of the intended medium? How enforceable is Mallami’s threat to prosecute users of Twitter and under what law will this be? For the reason of space, we will spare discussion on these posers till some other time. For now, all we can say is that this simply appears as a case of one double standard begetting another.
Adegoke is a Lagos-based Communication Consultant and public affairs analyst.