2021-06-18 07:52:39 Twitter Ban Nigeria

Twitter Ban Nigeria

BuzzFeed News’ Alvaro Dominguez

On June 5, Farida Garba*, 23, opened her Twitter app to find that she, like 39 million other Nigerian Twitter users, was unable to access the platform.

“Tweets were no longer loading, and it took me an hour to figure out what had happened,” Garba*, who chose to use a pseudonym for her own safety, told BuzzFeed News.

Just the day before, Nigeria’s government announced the suspension of Twitter operations in the country, ironically through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture’s Twitter account. The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, which represents all telecommunications companies and service providers in the country, confirmed on the day the ban went into effect that its members had received orders from the federal government to suspend all network users’ access to Twitter.

The government described the ban as “temporary,” but did not specify how long it would last. Neither did Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who remained tight-lipped about the ban’s future in a rare interview, saying he would keep the timeline to himself.

According to many, the ban was announced in response to Twitter’s decision to delete a tweet by Buhari, citing it as a violation of the app’s rules against “abusive behavior.” His account was also suspended for a period of 12 hours.

The controversial tweet threatened to use force against rebel groups suspected of being behind recent attacks on security agents in Southeastern Nigeria, similar to what happened during the Biafra–Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970. Buhari’s message, which was a direct quote from a speech he had given, was met with criticism, with many concerned about the potential harm it could cause in a country that is still dealing with ethnic rivalries and separatist tensions led by those seeking to break away from Nigeria and restore an independent state of Biafra.

In response to the deletion of the tweet, Lai Mohammed, the minister of information and culture, held a press conference in Abuja, calling Twitter’s activities in Nigeria “suspicious” and accusing the platform of having a “agenda.”

Days later, the ban was announced and quickly enacted without any deliberation from the legislative branch, leaving many Nigerians stunned.

Only a few people have been able to access Twitter since then by using virtual private networks to circumvent the restriction. The government also stated that anyone who violated the ban would face legal consequences.

Outside of election cycles, social media has played an important role in allowing citizens in the West African country to voice their opinions and openly express their frustrations with the government. In October 2020, the microblogging platform was critical in sustaining the #EndSARS protests against police brutality, which lasted more than two weeks before culminating in a massacre by military officers of at least 12 people.

Before the brutal end of the #EndSARS movement, Twitter assisted protesters in organizing, securing donations, allocating resources, and keeping demonstrators on the ground and online in contact with one another. When the Central Bank of Nigeria, acting on federal orders, blocked donations to nearly two dozen bank accounts associated with the protests, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey expressed his support for the protests by tweeting that Nigerians should use bitcoin as an alternative.

Many Nigerians believe the ban is in part retaliation for Dorsey’s actions during the fall protests.

“The protests began and gained significant momentum thanks to social media,” Eniafe Momodu, a 23-year-old journalist, told BuzzFeed News. “It was probably the first time that many of Nigeria’s older generation, including most of our government officials, truly understood the power and impact of social media.”

Even before #EndSARS, the Nigerian government, led by Buhari, had been persistent in its efforts to impose social media restrictions. In 2019, an anti-social media bill was proposed that sought to criminalize the use of social media in “peddling false or malicious information.” Members of the public protested the bill, calling it a bid to further police the population, and it was eventually defeated.

Prior to that, less than a year after Buhari took office, another now-withdrawn piece of legislation known as the Frivolous Petitions (Prohibitions) Bill was introduced. Anyone found guilty of publishing “false information that could endanger the country’s security” could face up to seven years in prison or a $25,000 fine under the proposed law.

According to Nigeria’s constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Twitter ban and threats to prosecute are illegal, human rights lawyer Ridwan Oke told BuzzFeed News.

“They are all talking about the same thing: the right to free expression. They are unalienable rights,” Oke stated.

Several human rights organizations have spoken out against the ban, with the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project filing a lawsuit against the federal government in the Economic Community of West African States, with 176 concerned Nigerians joining in.

Former US President Donald Trump backed the move to block Twitter, saying he should have done the same thing while in office and accusing social media platforms of “not allowing free and open speech.”

It’s difficult to say how much this ban has affected the millions of people who use Twitter as a major resource. Nigerians we spoke with said they are upset, anxious, or afraid, and that they are still in disbelief.

“When the ban was announced, I felt scared, as if something bad would happen and we wouldn’t be able to reach out for help,” Olapeju Jolaoso, a 28-year-old business owner, told BuzzFeed News. “My first clients came from Twitter. Now I’m just afraid to tweet from my business account; I’m afraid they’ll harass me. It’s scarier because you can’t predict their next move,” she added.

To make matters worse, Jolaoso, who had a network of vendors on Twitter, has had to relocate her online business operations to other apps such as Telegram and Facebook.

However, Twitter’s benefits also stem from the safety and community it provides for women and queer people, two of the country’s most marginalized groups. Somi, a Nigerian nonbinary, trans woman, sees this ban as a huge disadvantage.

“I turned to Twitter to find friends and community,” said the 19-year-old, who is currently fundraising for their medical transition. “To seek advice and encouragement from the outside world without regard for judgment. It was here that I [used my voice] and received all of the assistance I required.”

According to Ani Kayode Somtochukwu, a 21-year-old queer liberation activist and writer, the potential impact on LGBTQ Nigerians who use social media apps like Twitter to escape is enormous.

“For us, social media is about more than just organization; it is also about safety. “We can’t legally gather without being targeted by the law,” he explained.

Displays of affection with members of the same sex are punishable by a 10-year prison sentence in Nigeria.

Somtochukwu also stated that if the ban remains in place, LGBTQ Nigerians will suffer.

“It will mean a loss of community, a loss of access to sometimes life-saving information, and a loss of access to assistance in times of need,” he said.

Twitter has been beneficial to Nigerian women in their fight against inequality and rising violence against them. Campaigns such as the Yaba Market March, which aimed to combat the culture of groping and sexual harassment, have found a home on Twitter.

“This has evolved into a space for shared opportunities, a place to protest violations of our rights, a place to provide emotional support, and so on,” explained PR consultant and activist Ebele Molua. “We struggle to find a way to sustain ourselves in a society that is unconcerned about human rights and the advancement of marginalized groups.”

According to experts, Nigeria stands to lose a lot as a result of this ban. According to NetBlocks’ Cost of Shutdown Tool, Nigeria loses slightly more than $6 million every day that Twitter is unavailable. According to Adeboye Adegoke, a senior program manager at Paradigm Initiative, which advocates for digital inclusion and digital rights in Africa, the consequences include harm to the country’s reputation as a democracy.

“The incumbent government in Nigeria has already demonstrated numerous times that it does not believe in democratic ideals,” Adegoke said. “Moves like this scare off investors. So there is definitely an impact on FDI (foreign direct investment) that I hope we can find a way to quantify so we can accurately tell what has been lost.”

For many Nigerians, there appears to be no end in sight.

“I don’t think the ban will be lifted anytime soon,” Cheta Nwanze, a political thought leader in Nigeria and a lead at SBM Intelligence, told BuzzFeed News.

“This government has a history of doubling down on bad ideas…

I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I believe this ban will last until election season.”

As things stand, young Nigerians are divided about how to proceed. Some of the sources we spoke with have no idea what will happen next and have decided to simply wait out the ban. “I am very afraid of a protest because these people have killed us before, [and] they will most likely kill us again,” Garba said.

Others, on the other hand, were looking forward to returning to the streets for protests such as those held on June 12 to coincide with Nigeria’s Democracy Day. The demonstrations, which took place across the country, were mostly peaceful, but they were met with a heavy police presence. Officers used force and violence without hesitation, teargassing some and arresting others.

Molua believes “Nigerians cannot be patient for much longer.”

“October awoke something in us in the sense that it shook us to our core,” she explained. “It showed us that if we went as one voice, we could have a voice and demand better from our leaders, and I hope that [can] eventually bring us victory.”

Source link

Other News

Subscribe to our World NEWS Letter

Twitter Ban Nigeria