On the morning of June 5, 23-year-old Farida Garba* opened her Twitter app to discover that she liked her. 39 million more Nigerians Twitter users, did not have access to the platform.
“The tweets are no longer loading, and it took an hour to find out what happened,” Garba* – who chose to use that pseudonym for her own safety – told BuzzFeed News.
Just the day before, the Nigerian government announced that it would suspend Twitter operations in the country, ironically by Twitter account Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. On the day the ban began, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, which represents all telecom companies and service providers in the country, confirmed That its members have received orders from the federal government to suspend all users of the network’s access to Twitter.
The government described the ban.Temporary“But he did not specify how long it would be in effect. Neither did Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, when asked about the future of the ban. In a rare interviewHe remained silent and said he would keep the schedule to himself.
To many, the ban announcement seemed to be a response to Twitter’s decision to delete A tweet posted by Bukhari, referring to it as a violation of the app’s rules against “arbitrary behaviour”. His account was also suspended for 12 hours.
The controversial tweet threatened to treat supposedly belated rebel groups الجماعات Recent attacks On security agents in southeastern Nigeria strongly reminiscent of what happened during the Nigerian-Biafra Civil War from 1967 to 1970. Bukhari’s message, a direct quote from a speech, was met with criticism, with many raising concerns about the potential damage he could cause to a country that does not It continues to wrestle with ethnic rivalries and separatist tensions led by those looking to secede from Nigeria and restore the independent state of Biafra.
In response to the deletion of the tweet, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lay Muhammad, held a party Press Conference In the capital, Abuja, he described Twitter’s activities in Nigeria as “suspicious” and accused the platform of being “an agenda”.
Days later, the ban was announced and quickly enacted without any deliberation by the legislature, leaving many Nigerians in disbelief.
Since then, only a few people have access to Twitter Using Virtual Private Networks to bypass the restriction. The government also stated that anyone circumventing the ban will be tried.
In the West African country, social media has played a key role in giving citizens the opportunity to express their opinions and publicly express their frustration with the government outside of electoral cycles. In October 2020, the microblogging platform was crucial to the continuing #EndSARS protests against police brutality, which lasted for more than two weeks before ending in massacre At least 12 people by army officers.
Before the brutal end of the #EndSARS movement, Twitter helped protesters organize and secure donations, allocate resources, and keep protesters on the ground and online in contact with one another. When Nigeria’s central bank, on federal orders, blocked donations to nearly two dozen bank accounts linked to the protests, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey signaled his support for the demonstrations by Tweeting that Nigerians should adopt Bitcoin as an alternative.
Many Nigerians believe the ban is also in part in retaliation for Dorsey’s actions during the fall protests.
“The protests started and gained a lot of momentum thanks to social media,” 23-year-old journalist Inyafi Momodu told BuzzFeed News. “This was probably the first time that many older Nigerians, including most of our government officials, understood the power and impact of social media.”
Even before #EndSARS, though, the Nigerian government, under the Buhari administration, was continuing its attempts to impose restrictions on social media. In 2019, anti-social media billwhich sought to criminalize the use of social media to “promote false or malicious information.” Members of the public who launched it opposed the bill petitions While describing it as an attempt to strengthen the police over the population, he was eventually killed.
Before that, in 2015, another now-withdrawn piece of legislation called Petty Solicitations (Prohibitions) The bill 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 convicted of publishing “false information that could threaten the security of the country.”
Human rights lawyer Ridwan Ok told BuzzFeed News that bans on Twitter and threats of prosecution are illegal according to the Nigerian constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
They all talk about the same thing, which is the right to freedom of expression. “They are inalienable rights,” Aoki said.
Several human rights organizations have spoken out against this ban, with the Social and Economic Rights and Accountability Project Raising the Federal Government to the Court of the Economic Community of West African States, whereby 176 concerned Nigerians joined the suit.
The move to ban her Twitter received support From former US 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 openness”.
It would be difficult to quantify how much this ban will affect the millions of people who consider Twitter a key resource. The Nigerians we spoke to said they were upset, anxious or scared, and most say they are still in disbelief.
“When the ban was announced, I was terrified, as if something bad was going to happen and we wouldn’t have access to help,” Olapeju Jolaoso, a 28-year-old business owner, told BuzzFeed News. “My first clients were off Twitter. Now I’m just afraid of tweeting from my business account; I’m afraid they’ll bother me. It’s scary because you can’t predict their next line of actions.
Adding to her frustration is the fact that Jolaoso, who had a network of sellers on Twitter, had to move her online business operations to other apps like Telegram and Facebook.
But Twitter’s advantages also depend on the safety and community it provides to women and LGBT people – both deeply marginalized groups in the country. Somi, a non-binary Nigerian, transgender, considers this ban to be a major disadvantage.
“Twitter is a place I have gone to to find friends and community,” said the 19-year-old, who is currently crowdfunding for a medical transformation. To seek advice and encouragement without judgment from the outside world. I was here [used my voice] And I got all the help I needed.”
For 21-year-old queer activist and editorial writer, Ani Kayode Somtochukwu, the potential impact on LGBTQ Nigerians who see social media apps like Twitter for escape is significant.
“For us, social media is not just about convenience in organizing – it’s also about safety. We cannot legally gather without being targeted by the law.
Showing affection in Nigeria with members of the same sex is an offense 10 years the prison.
Somtochukwu also said that if the ban continues, LGBTQ Nigerians will suffer.
“It will mean loss of community, loss of access to life-saving information at times, loss of access to assistance in times of need,” he said.
For Nigerian women, Twitter has been instrumental in combating growing inequality and violence against them. campaigns like Yaba Market Marchwho sought to fight the culture of harassment and sexual harassment, she found her life on Twitter.
“This has become a space for shared opportunities, a place to advocate against the violation of our rights, to provide emotional support, and so on,” explained PR consultant and activist Ebele Mulua. “We struggle to find an outlet to support ourselves in a society that does not care about human rights and is progressive for marginalized groups.”
Experts point out that Nigeria has a lot to lose with this ban. According to NetBlocks’ shutdown cost tool, Nigeria loses a little more $6 million every day Twitter remains inaccessible. The repercussions also include damage to the nation’s reputation as a democracy, said Adeboye Adegok, senior program director at the Paradigm Initiative, which advocates for digital inclusion and digital rights in Africa.
“The current government in Nigeria has proven many times that it does not believe in democratic ideals,” Adejoki said. “Movements like this discourage investors. So there is definitely this impact on FDI (foreign direct investment) that I hope we can find a way to measure so we can really see what has been lost.”
For many Nigerians, there does not seem to be an end in sight.
“I don’t think the ban will be lifted soon,” Cheeta Nwanze, a political thought leader in Nigeria and leader at SBM Intelligence, told BuzzFeed News.
“This particular government has a track record of multiplying bad ideas…I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I see this ban continuing into election season.”
As it stands, Nigerian youths are in conflict over the way forward. Some of the sources we spoke to have no idea what’s coming next and simply choose to wait for the ban to expire. “I am too afraid to protest because these people have killed us before, [and] “They will likely do it again,” Garba said.
However, others were looking forward to returning to the streets for protests like the one that took place June 12 To coincide with Nigeria’s Democracy Day. The demonstrations, which took place in different parts of the country, were largely peaceful but were met with a Heavy Nigerian Police Force Presence. The officers did not hesitate to use force and violence, as they fired tear gas at some and arrested others.
Mulua said she doesn’t think “Nigerians can be patient any longer.”
“October has awakened something in us, as much as it has shaken us to our core,” she said. “He showed us that we can have a voice and demand our leaders better if we go with one voice, I hope so [can] It really brings us victory in the end.” ●