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FG lifts Twitter ban after 222 days, N546.5b economic losses

By Adeyemi Adepetun, Assistant Editor, ComTech
13 January 2022   |   3:52 am
After 222 days and economic losses of about N546.5 billion, the Federal Government has finally lifted the ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria...

[FILES] A man looks at newspapers at a newsstand in Abuja, Nigeria June 5, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Stakeholders divided, say FG should not gag platform
• ECOWAS court plans to deliver judgment next week
• We never left Twitter, Nigerians react

After 222 days and economic losses of about N546.5 billion, the Federal Government has finally lifted the ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.

The lifting of the suspension was announced yesterday, via a statement by the Chairman Technical Committee, Nigeria-Twitter Engagement and Director-General National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi.

Abdullahi said the Federal Government directed him to inform the public that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the lifting of the ban effective from 12:00 a.m. this morning.

He said the approval was given following a memo written to the President by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Ali Ibrahim. In the Memo, he said the Minister updated and requested the President’s approval for the lifting based on the Technical Committee Nigeria-Twitter Engagement’s recommendation.

Recall that the Federal Government had announced the suspension of Twitter operations on June 4, 2021, after the social media giant deleted a post by President Buhari for “violation of the company’s abusive behaviour policy.”

By June 5, 2021, the suspension was effected by telecommunications companies as Nigerians woke up to a Twitter shutdown across all platforms.

But in his Independence Day anniversary speech on October 1, 2021, President Buhari sounded like all outstanding issues had been resolved, directing the lifting of the suspension if the organisation had met the government’s conditions. In fact, many headlines misled readers to believe the unbanning was with immediate effect.

According to the NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool, Nigeria lost N104.02 million ($250,600) every hour to the ban, bringing the daily losses to N2.46 billion.

By the end of yesterday, it was 5,328 hours in the 222 days since the social networking site was blocked, and about N546.5 billion was already lost by the economy.

A reliable industry source told The Guardian yesterday that it must have been a smart move on the part of FG to have lifted the ban because the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court was expected to deliver a judgement on the case filed by the Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) next week.

The Guardian had reported last year that contrary to claims that there were about 40 million Twitter users, findings revealed that there was just 3.05 million potential audiences that the microblogging platform reports could be reached with adverts on the platform.

According to digital report 2021 by Hootsuite, a social media and marketing dashboard, Twitter’s potential advertising audience compared to the total population aged 13 plus in Nigeria is 2.4 per cent, while the quarter-on-quarter change in Twitter’s advertising reach is 17.3 per cent.

The implication of this is that Twitter’s penetration in the country is still very low compared to other platforms. Analytically, it equally means that it is unlikely that these 3.05 million adverts audience would be impacted by the American company.

While the ban lasted, some Nigerians, including government officials, were still tweeting. They circumvented the process by installing Virtual Private Network (VPN).

VPN is a technology that encrypts your Internet traffic on unsecured networks to protect your online identity and hide your details.

MEANWHILE, stakeholders have expressed missed feeling on the development. While some commended the move, describing it as a welcome development, others queried the ban abnitio.

Speaking with The Guardian, the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said the FG has finally listened to the voice of appeal and that of the people.

However, Ogunbanjo said after the lifting and Twitter’s agreement to the conditions, “FG should not gag the microblogging platform. They should understand and be ready to listen to opposing voices. Constructive criticisms should be welcomed.”

On the economic losses, Ogunbanjo said: “We sympathise with businesses and organisations that recorded losses, but it is better late than never. Consolation is that the platform is back, businesses can run and FG can make money from the planned taxes on social media platforms.”

Nigerian Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, described the lifting of the ban as timely.

Teniola said: “It appears that FG is now comfortable with Twitter meeting its conditions and we trust that going forward continued dialogue is the norm in ensuring the engagement of the youth to building a digital economy on a platform that is highly visible, impactful and global in the digital social media space.”

Another stakeholder, Kehinde Aluko, also described the lifting of the ban as commendable, “but, they ought to have done this long before now. So many small businesses have crumbled in Nigeria, after having to cope with a struggling economy and the impact of COVID-19.”

The Executive Secretary, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ajibola Olude, said it is a welcome development that FG is lifting the ban after seven months.

Olude said this has further shown that “we have a government that is listening to our advocacy in the area of deepening technology and ICT for our national development.”

Telecoms lawyer, Ayoola Oke, however, expressed a varying opinion. He queried the rationale behind the ban in the first instance, asking what FG actually gained from the ban.

He stressed that Twitter didn’t lose anything, but Nigerians. “FG should tell us what they gained from the ban. To me, it was just a waste of time. Studies have shown that at least, 98 per cent of Twitter revenue comes from Europe, America and Asia, the remaining two per cent is from Africa and others. So, the market is so small.

“Even Donald Trump, former USA President tried it and failed. Twitter is just a website for Twitter just like Nigeria having its own website, can another country ban our platform? To me, the ban was just a wild goose chase!”

NIGERIAN tweeps have also reacted to lifting of the ban placed on Twitter by the Federal Government since June 2021.

Reacting to the news, a Twitter user @Ogbenidipo wrote: “The Twitter ban ruined lives and destroyed small businesses. It was needless and unproductive. The government did not achieve anything banning the platform in Nigeria. I honestly hope this never happened again.”

@islimfit tweeted: “Holiday is over for Corporate Nigeria. There’s no hiding anymore. The calling out for bad services will resume now that the ban has been lifted. All the financial institutions will hear it! All the complaints they’ve been dodging while using the ban as an excuse.”

Lekan Otufodurin, a journalist, tweeted: “I almost asked some days ago if the government remembered it suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria. For all they cared, it would remain suspended for as long as possible. Those who stayed away are welcome back. Some of us never left.”

A former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili asked: “Did @Twitter meet @NigeriaGov’s conditions? For instance, do they have a Nigerian office now?”

@DrFunmilayo tweeted: “Government gained nothing. Achieved nothing. Ruined businesses. Nigeria has lost about one billion dollars because a President felt his ego crushed by Twitter.”

@generaloluchi tweeted “My question to Lai Mohammed now that Twitter has been restored in Nigeria: Is its interest in Nigeria no longer suspect? That was what he said in the first week of the ban. What changed? Is the platform no longer a threat to Nigeria?”

ACCORDING to the NITDA DG, yesterday, the President constituted a seven-man Presidential Committee to engage Twitter Inc. “Subsequently, in its wisdom, the Presidential Committee set a 20-member Technical Committee comprising all relevant government agencies.

“The Technical Committee engaged and worked directly with the Twitter team. The immediate and remote cause of the suspension was the unceasing use of the platform by some unscrupulous elements for subversive purposes and criminal activities, propagating fake news, and polarising Nigerians along tribal and religious lines, among others.

“These issues bordering on national security, cohesion and the effects of the abuse of the Twitter platform forced the FGN to suspend the operation of Twitter to address the direct and collateral issues around its operations in Nigeria.

“The new global reality is that digital platforms and their operators wield enormous influence over the fabric of our society, social interaction and economic choices. These platforms can be used as either a tool or a weapon. Every nation is grappling with how to balance its usage efficiently. Without balancing, every citizen’s security, privacy, social well-being and development are at stake. Therefore, our action is a deliberate attempt to recalibrate our relationship with Twitter to achieve the maximum mutual benefits for our nation without jeopardising the justified interests of the company. Our engagement has been very respectful, cordial and successful.

“The process of resolving this impasse between the FGN and Twitter Inc. has helped lay a foundation for a mutually beneficial future with endless possibilities. Twitter is a platform of choice for many Nigerians ranging from young innovators to public sector officials who find it helpful to engage their audience.

“Therefore, our engagement will help Twitter improve and develop more business models to cover a broader area in Nigeria. Furthermore, the FGN looks forward to providing a conducive environment for Twitter and other global tech companies to achieve their potential and be sustainably profitable in Nigeria,” the statement reads.

While appreciating Nigerians, especially the vibrant youths, who have borne with the long wait to resolve this impasse, the government said it is happy to say that the gains made from the shared national sacrifice are immeasurable.

According to FG, some of the gains include, ongoing economic and training opportunities as the company continues to consider expanding its presence in Nigeria; getting a better understanding of how to use the Twitter platform effectively to improve businesses; revenue generation from the operation of Twitter in Nigeria; smooth and coordinated relationship between Nigerian government; and Twitter leading to mutual trust; reduction of cybercriminal activities such as terrorism, cyberstalking, hate speech, etc, and working with Twitter and other global companies to build an acceptable code of conduct following the global best practice.

FG said it asked Twitter to fulfill some conditions before restoring its services, stressing that these conditions addressed legal registration of operations, taxation, and managing prohibited publication in line with Nigerian laws.

According to FG, Twitter has agreed to meet all the conditions set for it. Consequently, the FGN and Twitter have decided on an execution timeline, which has started this week.

FG said its engagement with Twitter opens a new chapter in global digital diplomacy and sets a new operational template for Twitter to come back stronger for the benefit of Nigerians.

According to the statement, the agreed resolutions are as follows: Twitter is committed to establishing a legal entity in Nigeria during the first quarter of 2022. The legal entity will register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). The establishment of the entity is Twitter’s first step in demonstrating its long-term commitment to Nigeria.

“Twitter has agreed to appoint a designated country representative to interface with Nigerian authorities. The Global Public Policy team is also directly available through a dedicated communication channel.

“Twitter has agreed to comply with applicable tax obligations on its operations under Nigerian law.

“Twitter has agreed to enroll Nigeria in its Partner Support and Law Enforcement Portals. The Partner Support Portal provides a direct channel for government officials and Twitter staff to manage prohibited content that violates Twitter community rules. At the same time, the Law Enforcement Portal provides a channel for the law enforcement agencies to submit a report with a legal justification where it suspects that content violates Nigerian Laws. Taken together, these represent a comprehensive compliance apparatus.

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

Based on the conditions above, FG encourages all users of the Twitter platform to maintain ethical behaviour and refrain from promoting divisive, dangerous and distasteful information on the platform.

“As patriotic citizens, we need to be mindful that anything illegal offline is also illegal online and that committing a crime using a Nigerian Internet Protocol (IP) is synonymous with committing a crime within our jurisdiction.

“Considering Twitter’s influence on our democracy, our economy, and the very fabric of our corporate existence as a Nation, our priority is to adapt, not ban, Twitter. The FGN is committed to working with Twitter to do anything possible to help Nigerians align and navigate Twitter algorithmic design to realise its potentials while avoiding its perils,” FG stated.

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