On the morning of June 5, 23-year-old Farida Garba opened her Twitter app to find out she liked it 39 million other Nigerians Twitter users were unable to access the platform.
“Tweets were no longer loaded and it took me an hour to find out what had happened,” Garba *, who chose to use the pseudonym for his personal safety, told BuzzFeed News.
Just the day before, the Nigerian government had announced that it would suspend Twitter operations in the country, ironically through the Twitter account of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. On the day the ban was issued, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, which represents all telecommunications companies and service providers in the country, confirmed that its members had received orders from the federal government to suspend access for all network users to Twitter.
The government called the ban “storm”, But did not specify how long it would be in force. Neither did Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who was asked about the future of the ban in a rare interview, he continued with tight lips and said he would keep the timeline for him.
For many, the announcement of the ban seemed to respond to Twitter’s decision to do so delete a tweet made by Buhari, citing it as a violation of the rules of the application against “abusive behavior.” His account was also suspended for 12 hours.
The controversial tweet threatened to deal with the rebel groups that were supposed to be behind it recent attacks on security agents in southeastern Nigeria strongly reminiscent of the Biafra-Nigeria Civil War from 1967 to 1970. Buhari’s message, a direct quote from a speech he had delivered, received criticism, and many were alarmed about the possible damage it could cause in a country that continues to face ethnic rivalries and separatist tensions led by those who want to escape Nigeria and restore an independent state of Biafra.
In response to the deletion of the tweet, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, held a Press conference in the capital, Abuja, calling Twitter activities in Nigeria “suspicious” and accusing the platform of having an “agenda”.
Days later, the ban was announced and promulgated quickly without any deliberation from the legislative arm, which left many Nigerians in disbelief.
In the West African country, social media has played an integral role in giving citizens the opportunity to express their views and openly express their frustrations with the government outside of election cycles. In October 2020, the microblogging platform was crucial in maintaining the #EndSARS protests against police brutality, which lasted more than two weeks before ending in a massacre of at least 12 people by military officers.
Before the brutal end of the #EndSARS movement, Twitter helped protesters organize, secure donations, allocate resources, and keep protesters on the ground and online in touch with each other. When the Central Bank of Nigeria, acting on federal orders, blocked donations to nearly two dozen bank accounts linked to the protests, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey showed his support for the protests by tweeting that Nigerians should adopt bitcoin as an alternative.
Many Nigerians believe the ban is also partly in retaliation against Dorsey’s actions during the autumn protests.
“The protests started and increased considerably thanks to social media,” 23-year-old journalist Eniafe Momodu told BuzzFeed News. “It was probably the first time that a large part of the older generation of Nigerians, including most of our government officials, really understood the power and impact of social media.”
Even before #EndSARS, however, the Nigerian government, under Buhari’s administration, has been persistent in its attempts to impose restrictions on social media. In 2019, the asocial media bill, which sought to criminalize the use of social media to “transmit false or malicious information,” it was proposed. Members of the public, who launched themselves, opposed the bill requests while a bet was being made to continue to watch over the population, and he was finally assassinated.
Prior to that, in 2015, another piece of legislation now withdrawn was called The Frivolous requests (Prohibitions) The law was introduced less than a year after Buhari came to power. The proposed law threatened up to seven years in prison or a $ 25,000 fine for anyone found guilty of publishing “false information that could threaten the security of the country.”
The ban on Twitter and threats to prosecute are illegal under the Nigerian constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, human rights lawyer Ridwan Oke said. at BuzzFeed News.
“Everyone talks about the same thing, which is the right to freedom of expression. They are inalienable rights, ”Oke said.
Several human rights organizations have spoken out against this ban, with the Socio-Economic Rights and Responsibility Project bring the federal government to the court of the Economic Community of West African States, with 176 concerned Nigerians who came together to file the lawsuit.
The step to block Twitter has taken received support of former U.S. President Donald Trump, who suggested he should have done the same while in office and accused social media platforms of “not allowing free speech and free openness.”
It would be difficult to quantify how much this ban affects the millions of people who consider Twitter to be an important resource. Nigerians we have spoken to have shared that they feel upset, anxious or scared, and most say they remain incredulous.
“When the ban was announced, I was scared, as if something bad was happening and we couldn’t ask for help,” Olapeju Jolaoso, a 28-year-old business owner, told BuzzFeed News. “My first customers were off Twitter. Now I’m just scared to tweet from my company account; I’m afraid they’ll harass me. It’s more terrifying because you can’t predict your next line of action, ”he continued.
To his frustration is added the fact that Jolaoso, which had a network of providers on Twitter, has had to move its online business operations to other apps like Telegram and Facebook.
But Twitter’s benefits are also based on the security and community it provides to women and strangers, both heavily marginalized groups in the country. Somi, a non-binary Nigerian trans woman, considers this ban to be a huge detriment.
“Twitter is a place I went to find friends and community,” said the 19-year-old, who is currently collectively funding his medical transition. “Seek advice and encouragement without judgment from the outside world. It was me here [used my voice] and I got all the help I needed. “
For 21-year-old queer release activist and writer Ani Kayode Somtochukwu, the potential impact on LGBTQ Nigerians who see social media apps like Twitter slipping is huge.
“For us, social networks are not only a convenience in the organization, but also a security. We cannot meet legally without being subject to the law, ”he said.
In Nigeria manifestations of affection with members of the same sex are a crime that entails one 10 years prison sentence.
Somtochukwu also said that if the ban continues, LGBTQ Nigerians will suffer.
“It will mean the loss of community, the loss of access to information that can sometimes save lives, the loss of access to help in times of need,” he said.
For Nigerian women, Twitter has been helpful in fighting inequality and increasing the violence perpetrated against them. Campaigns like the March of the Yaba Market, who sought to combat the culture of groping and sexual harassment, have found their lives on Twitter.
“This has become a space for shared opportunities, a place to deal with the violation of our rights, provide emotional support, etc.,” explained consultant and public relations activist Ebele Molua. “We struggle to find a way out to stay in a society that doesn’t care about human rights and the progressiveness of marginalized groups.”
Experts suggest that Nigeria loses a lot with this ban. According to the NetBlocks stop cost tool, Nigeria loses little more $ 6 million every day that Twitter remains inaccessible. The ramifications also include damage to the nation’s reputation as a democracy, said Adeboye Adegoke, senior program manager for the Paradigm Initiative, which advocates for digital inclusion and digital rights in Africa.
“The current government in Nigeria has already shown many times that it does not believe in democratic ideals,” Adegoke said. “Such movements deter investors. Therefore, there is certainly this impact on FDI (foreign direct investment) which I hope we can find a way to measure so that we can know in fact what has been potentially lost ”.
For many Nigerians, there does not seem to be an end in sight.
“I don’t think the ban will be lifted any time soon,” Cheta Nwanze, one of Nigeria’s political thought leaders and leader of SBM Intelligence, told BuzzFeed News.
“This government in particular has a history of doubling down on bad ideas … I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I see this ban lasting until election season.”
As it stands, young Nigerians are in conflict on the way forward. Some of the sources we are talking about have no idea what will come next and simply choose to wait for the ban. “I’m very afraid of a protest because these people have killed us before, [and] they will probably do it again, ”Garba said.
Others, however, hoped to return to the streets for protests such as those that took place June 12 coinciding with Nigeria Democracy Day. The demonstrations, which took place in different parts of the country, were largely peaceful, but met with a heavy Nigerian police force presence. Officers did not hesitate to use force and violence, and caused the tear gas to spread while others were arrested.
Molua said he does not believe “Nigerians can have patience much longer.”
“October awakened something in us, as it shook us to our core,” he said. “It showed us that we can have a voice and demand better from our leaders if we went as one voice, and I hope that [can] in fact, finally, bring us victory. ”●