The Federal Government of Nigeria has announced a ban on Twitter, a leading microblogging platform, using a tweet on Friday, June 4, 2021.
This ban came after the tech company deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari alleged to convey threatening messages that could incite national violence. Twitter’s move was in line with their corporate stance against “abusive behaviour,” sources from the tech firm reveal.
In what seems like a kickback, the Federal Government announced a country-wide ban on using the highly subscribed platform under the guise that it “threatens Nigeria’s corporate existence”. This move has so far cost the country in terms of daily economic losses and investment potentials.
As if foretold, Twitter has, in April 2021, announced setting up its first African office in Accra and not Lagos, based on the justification that Ghana was more investment-friendly and ready to support innovative flows into its investment-hungry economy. Twitter analysts have also envisaged Ghana as a country that prioritises free speech, online freedom and an open internet space for its citizens, unlike Nigeria, as it has shown in the past months with the proposed Social Media Bill and the post-#EndSars event.
This choice, made by Twitter Inc., is without prejudice to Nigeria’s 40 million Twitter users, while Ghana’s entire population as of January 2021 is 31.4 million.
However, Nigeria has been attracting more tech start-ups that have been doing well so far. Currently, Premium Times reports that about 250 fintech companies in the country and start-ups like Paystack, ULesson, 54Gene, Flutterwave, LifeBank, and Max.ng are among others faring well in the country’s technology ecosystem.
The recent ban by the Federal Government on Twitter use has nonetheless created a market access gap for start-ups and other small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) who rely on the platform to reach their customers.
More so, the e-commerce market, estimated to be valued at about $12 billion, is worse hit by this shock, as the new restrictive directive is sabotaging daily reach between investor and consumers.
Reports reveal that N7.5 billion has been lost in just a few days since the ban. NetBlocks, a watchdog organisation formed to monitor cybersecurity and governance of the internet, reports that each hour of the social media suppression costs Nigeria about $250,000 (N102.5m). This estimates a daily loss of N2.5 billion.
NetBlocks further reveals that a day of total internet blackout can cost the country up to about N49 billion in economic losses while about N11 billion risks being lost daily if WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are all shutdown.
The loss of access to the microblogging service, it is believed, can cause a slowdown in trade velocity, reduce productivity and cut down on jobs. It is also highly probable that the demand for remote skilled labour may slide southwards since foreign investors will be averse to hiring workers from an origin with high uncertainties and risks.
Within hours of the ban, Nigerians have resorted to a detour by using virtual private network (VPN) services, which helps internet users disguise their identity and evade country-specific limits. With this, users can resume their normal Twitter activities unhindered.
However, the Nigerian government showed utter displeasure to this development and vowed to deal with erring individuals who dared to bypass the sovereign decision. Also, the Nigerian government have engaged the Chinese government in the use of firewall, some sources say.
This firewall system will grant the Federal Government complete control over the Nigerian internet space to control all social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, just as China currently does.
With an active user age bracket ranging between 18 and 25 years, the Twitter community in Nigeria forms the most vocal and politically active segment of the entire population. Through the online platform, anti-government demonstrations such as the famous #EndSars protest have been organised, with massive turnouts nationwide.
This ban will put these active voices to a quiet; their collective demand for justice and good governance may be hindered by the restrictive order, which is a slur to Nigeria’s rights to freedom of expression as well as a stain on other rights provided in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The infringement on citizens’ fundamental human rights sends a solid signal to foreign investors who would rather invest in countries with strong institutions and a commendable value system.
Local and international concerns have been registered on this matter. A joint statement by the United States, Canada, European Union (EU), United Kingdom (UK) and the Republic of Ireland have condemned the Federal Government’s move, warning that economic hardship owing to the novel COVID-19 pandemic will only be further complicated rather than helped.
While advocating for the lifting of the ban, Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State advised, “…we should also remember that Twitter has gone beyond a source of communication for many of our hardworking youths in Nigeria. It has become a source of livelihood for many, irrespective of their political affiliations or religious leanings….”
Restricting access to services that help propagate important information for business, government and other day-to-day concern and for which people earn a living drives down the country’s rating, especially from an investor’s perspective.
Nigeria needs to demonstrate true leadership by respecting citizen’s rights to access and use information, if it must continue to lure new investments that will champion the expected growth outcomes in the country.