BusinessDay

After two months, FG finds it can’t do without Twitter

After two months of revenue losses to business owners and de-branding the corporate image of the country, the Nigerian government says it is ready to lift the ban it had placed on Twitter.

The ban would be lifted in a matter of days given that the microblogging firm and the government have reached some critical resolutions.

“We appreciate the patience of Nigerians. I want to assure you that we have made very tremendous progress. We have met with Twitter both physically and in writing. We are actually almost there,” Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, said.

While he does not elaborate on all the concessions made so far, the government said the social network had agreed to establish an office in Nigeria and have a Twitter staff of management cadre as the country representative, but would not be doing so until 2022.

Following the ban on June 4, 2021, the Federal Government had listed several demands Twitter must agree to before it is allowed to operate again in Nigeria. The demands include employing a designated country representative.

The company representative must also have a physical address in Abuja and outside the capital city as well as access to the global management so that it can serve as the liaison between Nigeria and Twitter.

Twitter is also expected to register with all relevant bodies and regulatory authorities like the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). The government also wants Twitter to commit itself to work with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to enable local tax collection from the company.

“We also proposed to Twitter that we should agree on a charter of online conduct for content management so that this charter will guide both of us. We will agree on which content would be acceptable, what is not acceptable,” Mohammed said.

Read also: Twitter Ban: Understanding the reputational risk to Nigeria

It is unlikely Twitter would agree to the last requirement as it could mean compromising its privacy policy and handing over control of censoring contents on its platform to the Nigerian government. Even in Europe where it aligns with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Twitter does not allow the European Commission to censor users’ content.

Nevertheless, the Nigerian government is confident the Twitter ban will soon be lifted in a matter of days. But some analysts say the plan to lift the ban may have more to do with the government’s realisation that it has handled the situation poorly and is looking for excuses to save face.

“Twitter should not be negotiating with blackmailers,” tweeted Victor Asemota, a Nigerian tech industry expert.

The ban, for instance, did not improve the recessive economy, instead, it threw the revenue of small businesses that are already struggling into a deeper hole. Going by Netblocks’ estimate that the country loses N2.46 billion for every day the social media network remains banned, it means Nigeria has now lost a cumulative N169 billion in the last 69 days and counting.

Top10VPN, a British company that reviews VPN usage, recently estimated that the ban on Twitter impacted around 104.4 million internet users in Nigeria with around $366.9 million loss in revenue. The company also utilised Netblocks and Internet Society to arrive at the calculations. The revenue loss puts Nigeria in the top three positions of countries with the most cost to revenue for putting a restriction on the internet. Myanmar and India are in the top two positions in terms of their losses.

“Twitter might be opening an office in Nigeria anyway and decided to allow FGN to use that to save face,” said a Nigerian Twitter user who goes by the name Othell Yarwyck. “The important thing is they never gave in to allowing FGN censorship nor did they apologise for deleting tweets and they did not commit to not doing the same in the future.”

Lifting the ban might also be driven by the government’s permutations for the 2023 elections. According to research by Nkiru Ezeh of Covenant University, Twitter’s relevance in politics can be seen in its ability to make the politician connect with the electorate through text, audio, or video without the gatekeeping interference of the journalist.

During elections, the network is used by groups of active citizens and bloggers, operating as opinion leaders, to provide information and support for those who are interested in politics, and especially for those who are indecisive as regards picking a candidate of choice.

The use of Twitter for electioneering has grown since 2015, when the two prominent presidential candidates Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Muhammad Buhari went all out to try to woo the millennial population to vote for them.

It intensified in the 2019 presidential election where Buhari representing the All Progressives Congress (APC) slugged it out with Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President of Nigeria and candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Going into 2023, the Nigerian government will not want to jeopardise its chance of retaining the Presidency by locking down a platform that has served it in the past. It is a futile attempt to lure Nigerians to a Twitter wannabe like Koo and the large number of Nigerians downloading VPNs to boycott the ban would have convinced them that Nigerians are not willing to let go of Twitter.

“Following the statement by @NigeriaGov that the unlawful #Twitterban will soon be lifted, we urge President Buhari to immediately lift the illegal suspension,” SERAP Nigeria, a civil society coalition said of the government’s plan.

SERAP, which filed a previous legal action against the government on the ban, said it would not hesitate to go back to the courts if the Buhari administration attempted to impose any restrictive conditions on Twitter.

“We’ll vigorously pursue legal action against the Federal Government to ensure the right of victims of the illegal Twitter suspension to remedies and adequate compensation, even after the unconstitutional ban is lifted. The ban should never have happened in the first place,” SERAP said.

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