• Monday, May 20, 2024
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Twitter ban: Nigeria lied about negotiations, says whistleblower

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The Nigerian government’s claim in January 2022 that it lifted the six months-long suspension of Twitter operations in the country because the tech company had agreed to meet all six of its conditions is false, a former member of Twitter’s senior executive team has said.

Peiter “Mudge” Zatko made the disclosure to the US Federal Trade Commission under Whistleblower Aid. Lawyers to Zatko confirmed that he was employed as “security lead”, a member of the senior executive team responsible for information security, privacy, physical security, information technology, and Twitter Service (the corporate division responsible for global content moderation enforcement) at Twitter, Inc. from November 16, 2020 until the morning of January 19, 2022, when CEO Parag Agrawal terminated his employment.

In the disclosure report, Zatko alleged that after blocking Twitter in June 2021, the Nigerian government went ahead to falsely claim to be in negotiations with Twitter executives.

“Twitter’s failure to correct the false record on many reported non-existent discussions with the Nigerian government permitted Nigeria to negotiate unilaterally through media and dictate unfavourable terms for final resolutions,” the report read.

Following the ban declaration on Twitter, the Nigerian government, through Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, said it had engaged the leadership of the microblogging platform. The government subsequently constituted a presidential committee to engage Twitter to explore the possibility of resolving the issue.

The issues the government wanted resolved bordered on national security and cohesion; registration, physical presence and representation; fair taxation; dispute resolution; and local content. The presidential committee was headed by Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, director-general of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

BusinessDay reached out to the corporate affairs department of NITDA for comments on the Whistleblower Aid report. A spokesperson for the agency insisted that the federal government had an agreement but would rather confirm from higher authorities for an official position. The agency has yet to provide a response by the time of publishing this report.

However, BusinessDay recalls that the statement that announced the lifting of the ban on Twitter came from the office of Abdullahi.

“Twitter has agreed to act with a respectful acknowledgment of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history on which such legislation has been built and work with the Federal Government of Nigeria and the broader industry to develop a Code of Conduct in line with global best practices, applicable in almost all developed countries,” he had said.

More than 10 months after, Twitter has yet to confirm the said agreement. In October, BusinessDay reached out to the company to get confirmation on when the company would establish a presence in the country. A Twitter spokesperson said there were no talks about establishing any presence in the country.

The latest disclosure from Zatko may only confirm the concerns many experts had about the alleged agreement.

“Twitter’s deliberate decision to refrain from correcting misinformation about Twitter’s proposed negotiations with the Nigerian government directly harmed Twitter shareholders. Permitting the Nigerian government to impose various conditions on the platform harmed free expression rights and democratic accountability for Nigerian citizens,” the report said.