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Issues arising from Twitter’s indefinite suspension in Nigeria

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After the Second World War which ended when the allied forces defeated the axis alliance in 1945, the world was polarized between two broad ideological lines. The United States led the free world with values of free speech, free enterprise, open governments, accountability, periodic elections while the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics led the communist world with authoritarian government, limited freedom of speech, state controlled economies. The fall of the Berlin world in 1989 and the collapse of the USSR a year later signaled the supremacy of the values of the free world where free speech was a key attribute.

The British writer Eric Blair who was more known by his pen name George Orwell had two novels which highlighted the threat of free speech in a totalitarian state – The allegory ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984.’

Free speech was badly compromised when Nigeria was under the jack boot of military rule. Nigerians recall that in 1984 during the regime of the current President Muhammadu Buhari when he was the Military Head of State, he promulgated the infamous Decree 4 which took away press freedom leading to the unjust incarceration of Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of The Guardian Newspapers who dared to stand up to his repressive policies.

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In 2015, Buhari as a then opposition candidate repackaged himself as a reformed democrat, and tragically even the brightest of minds in the country believed him and promoted his candidacy till he found his way into Aso Rock.

He never hid his disdain for the media and rarely addresses journalists preferring his aides to do it. There was also a move to regulate social media which was met with a loud outcry by many Nigerians.

When micro blogging giant, Twitter chose Ghana as its African Headquarters, there was a massive backlash by many Nigerians who felt that with a Twitter population of over 39 million which is more than the 32 million Ghanaian population, Nigeria should have been the natural destination. However, Twitter gave their reasons among which were: Ghana was described as ‘a champion for democracy, a supporter of free speech, online freedom and the open internet.’
Can Nigeria in all honesty lay claim to possessing any of the aforementioned attributes under this current civilian dictatorship?
Nigerians woke up to the rude shock of the indefinite suspension of Twitter by the Federal Government yesterday, June 4. The remote cause of this was as a result of a deleted tweet made by President Muhammadu Buhari as a result of a controversial tweet made about a secessionist group. Ironically, the announcement was made on Twitter – the platform it suspended by Segun Adeyemi, the media aide to the Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed.

The move by the FG is highly condemnable and shows a gargantuan contempt not only for the media but for free speech which is the engine room of the Press which is the Fourth Estate of the Realm. Former United States President, Donald Trump was suspended indefinitely not only by Twitter but also by Facebook, Instagram and YouTube for his alleged role in the Capitol Hill insurrection on January 6, 2021. The American government didn’t order an indefinite suspension of these giant platforms simply because the most powerful man in the world had been taken off their platforms. It is tragic that Buhari’s hatred for the media has not changed since 1984. The passage of time has indeed done nothing to alter his thoughts process. How tragic!

The critical role played by a free press was encapsulated by the third US President, Thomas Jefferson who wrote the American Declaration of Independence that spurred his countrymen to take up arms against the tyrannical government of King George III. He said: ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter’.

Lai Mohammed talked about the government owning its own social media platform. Does he think an extension of the Nigerian Television Authority can work in this day and age? Who watches NTA – the organ of government propaganda? Free markets and media liberalization as well as social media has rendered NTA irrelevant in the current scheme of things and any attempt by the government to create its own social media for Nigerians will be utterly resisted by the emotionally battered and psychologically scarred Nigerian people.

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This suspension is a huge anti-climax because of the importance of free speech in any democracy. We have had over 22 years of unbroken democracy since 1999 and it can’t still be said to be a nascent one. Many journalists put their lives and careers as well as personal safety on the line during the fight against military rule. Some like Dele Giwa, Bagulda Kaltho, Chris Imodibe etc paid the supreme price. Others like Babafemi Ojudu, the current Political Adviser to President Buhari and former Senator, Chris Anyanwu, a former Magazine Publisher and Senator and many others were unjustly incarcerated. Others like Dapo Olorunyomi of Premium Times, Dele Momodu etc were forced into exile for fear of being gunned down by General Sani Abacha’s heartless goons. Were their noble efforts in vain? Nigeria looks for every way to continually break your spirit and crush even the most optimistic of people.

There is an economic angle to the banning too. Being on Twitter as a social media influencer is a source of livelihood to many young Nigerians who have invested their time, money and emotions building a huge audience on the platform. When they achieve that, they help brands sell their goods and services as Twitter brand ambassadors. A popular one is Japheth Joshua Omojuwa who has over a million followers there and is a renowned socio-political commentator as well. The ban will render them economically prostrate and some may even have to refund the money paid to them by brands as a result of the force majeure. The current unemployment rate according to the National Bureau of Statistics is put at 33% which is one of the highest in the world. This ban will in no miniscule measure exponentially increase the unemployment rate. Why does the government not think public policies carefully before enacting them? What then becomes of the youths who are already currently impoverished? The other day, the Minister for the Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola was saying that Nigerian youths shouldn’t renounce their Nigerian citizenship. What does the Nigerian State give as a reward for being a loyal citizen? Rather than give anything tangible, it takes your entire being from you and spits you out like chaff after sucking you dry.

We call on the Federal Government to immediately reverse the indefinite suspension ban as it is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience. All Nigerians should take to the barricades to vehemently resist this latest act of tyranny. We owe it to the generations yet unborn to secure their future where their inalienable right to free speech wouldn’t be compromised by the whim of an insensitive government.
Ademiluyi, co founder of The Vent Republic Media wrote from Lagos.

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