It finally happened. Nigerians who are fond of the microblogging platform, Twitter, may no longer be able to do so on their devices as the federal government restricted access to its usage. According to Information and Culture Minister, Lai Muhammed, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is suspending Twitter’s operation in the country indefinitely.
On why the government took that action, Lai Muhammed cited “the persistent use of the platform for activities capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” On the surface, the decision sounds good and necessary but further interrogation will provide a picture quite contrary to the narrative being pushed by the government.
Of truth, people like Nnamdi Kanu are an anomaly to civil engagements and should have no platform to share nasty thoughts, however, making his unruly and violent rhetorics the basis for suspending Twitter in Nigeria, is exaggerating his wave of influence and unwittingly giving undue recognition to his secessionist group.
That is why it is hard to dismiss the arguments that the government’s decision to suspend Twitter’s operation in the country was a ‘knee-jerk reaction to the social media company’s removal of Buhari’s controversial tweet a few days earlier. It is ‘knee-jerk’ in the sense that the suspension portrayed the government as hostile to moderation and would sacrifice the interest of millions for few.
As at the time that the suspension directive was made, more than 40 million Twitter accounts are linked to Nigerians. Of those figures, a huge number of young persons are engaged by corporate organisations and other categories of the society for brand promotion and communication. But they may no longer have a job and join the growing list of unemployed Nigerians with the restrictions placed on Twitter.
The story may not be different for a large number of Nigerians who use Twitter to connect with customers for their products and services. It is just a mess and anyone observant enough to know how Nigeria got to the terrible state of insecurity and restiveness, would get worried at the possibility of any young Nigerian losing means of livelihood.
Having 33.3% of the population unengaged is a nightmare already, and it will be a poor attempt on the part of this government to run away from her responsibility and heap the blame of the distressing situation of the country on social media or zero it on Twitter. A government desirous of solution will not take steps that would rid young people of their various means of survival.
On a day-to-day basis, millions of Nigerians access Twitter for information and also to exchange thoughts on the state of affairs of the country. That is a fundamental right the Constitution guarantees them but the suspension of that platform takes that away from them. That was undemocratic to a lot of Nigerians, however, worse is the message it sent to the outside world, especially investors.
This was reflective in the reaction of the US Mission in Nigeria to the suspension of Twitter. Aside from recognising that the action “undermines” Nigerians ability to exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, it added that the restriction “sends a poor message to its citizens (Nigerians), investors and businesses.”
If the statistics of Netblocks.org, a mapping internet freedom platform, is anything to go by, the implication of Twitter restriction may have cost the country’s economy N2.1billion in just 24 hours. But more worrying is the impression it could weigh on foreign investors, which may bear on foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country. That would not be good for our fragile economy still battling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twitter is one platform that helped Nigerians connect, and most times serves as an emergency hotline for a lot of Nigerians. Whether to provide feedback to the government or seek intervention, Twitter is a platform that serves Nigerians a lot. In May when Iniobong Umoren who had honoured a job interview got missing, Twitter was used to call attention and eventually, find her killer.
So, it does a lot for the over 40 million users in the country, and it will be selfish to ignore them just to get at Twitter for removing Buhari’s tweet that he should never have written in the first place. The cost of suspending Twitter is huge and hopefully, Buhari and his team will have a rethink and lift the restriction on the social media giant app.
Oke Umurhohwo is a Political Analyst and Strategist. He tweets via @OkeStalyf and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org