Tweeps sustain demand for good governance, compensation for losses
The euphoria that trailed last Thursday’s lifting of the ban on micro-blogging site, Twitter, by the Federal Government, illustrates that social media has become an invaluable platform in boosting free speech, stimulating economic empowerment, as well as promoting the concept of the public sphere, all of which are essential components and ingredients of any open society.
As a flashback, the Federal banned the operation of Twitter in the country on June 4, 2021, barely two days after Twitter deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet.
Buhari had, on Tuesday, June 1, while relaying his method of finding lasting solutions to insecurity in the Southeast, threatened to punish those “bent on destroying Nigeria through insurrection.”
In doing so, he also referred to the civil war thus: “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
The micro-blogging site had felt by the post, President Buhari had violated “the company’s abusive behaviour policy,” so, the post was deleted. And consequently, on June 5, 2021, the government slammed the suspension order that lasted for seven months.
A day after the suspension, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, ordered the prosecution of Nigerians that were defying the government’s ban by continually tweeting with the help of Virtual Private Network (VPN).
The VPN, which some Nigeria-based Twitter users, who refused to be gagged by the government’s decision used, is one of the best tools for ensuring Internet privacy. It encrypts the connection and keeps an Internet user hidden while surfing, shopping, or carrying out banking online.
It is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated circuits or with tunnelling protocols over existing networks. A VPN available from the public Internet can provide some of the benefits of a wide area network (WAN).
Interestingly, on July 22, the government told a Federal High Court in Lagos that it had not stopped Nigerians from using Twitter, adding that many Nigerians were still using on the social media platform.
AFTER a 222-day hiatus and economic losses totalling about N546.5b, the Federal Government lifted the ban on Twitter operations in the country.
A statement by the Chairman, Technical Committee, Nigeria-Twitter Engagement, and Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, which conveyed the lifting of the suspension, 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.
The NITDA DG in the memo informed that the president had 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 wellbeing 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 read.
The government, which expressed happiness at what it called immeasurable gains made from the shared national sacrifice, explained that 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; Twitter leading to mutual trust; reduction of cybercriminal activities such as terrorism, cyber-stalking, hate speech, among others, as well as working with Twitter and other global companies to build an acceptable code of conduct following the global best practice.
While the Federal Government pointed out that Twitter has agreed to meet all the conditions set for it, it further informed that an execution timeline has been agreed upon by all concerned, even as the engagement with Twitter has opened a new chapter in global digital diplomacy, and set a new operational template for the outfit to come back stronger.
According to the statement: “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.”
As a result of these conditions, the Federal Government encouraged the platform users 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,” the government said.
THE American firm, writing on its public policy account, expressed delight at the restoration of service for everyone in the country.
“We are pleased that Twitter has been restored for everyone in Nigeria,” the tweet read, adding, “Our mission in Nigeria and around the world is to serve the public conversation.”
Growing Calls For Compensation For Economic Losses
THE NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST) estimates the economic impact of an Internet disruption, mobile data outage, or app restriction using indicators from the World Bank, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Eurostat and U.S. Census.
According to it, the country lost N104.02m ($250,600) hourly to the ban. This brought the daily losses to N2.46b. Consequently, by the end of last Wednesday (222 days since the social networking site was blocked), it was a total of 5, 328 hours. The country’s economy lost about N546.5b.
On his verified Twitter handle, @atiku, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar wrote, “ The effects of the #TwitterBan, particularly on small businesses, was evident for all to see. I am glad that the ban has finally been lifted, and our young people, who are already dealing with the challenging business environment can now have a breath of fresh air to thrive.”
It was in the light of the heavy economic losses that tweeps heavily criticised presidential aide, Garba Shehu’s first tweet shortly after Twitter operations were restored.
Shehu had tweeted midnight that Nigeria gained “immeasurably” from the shutdown of Twitter when the Nigerians tackled him.
He wrote, “Welcome back – Let me join fellow countrymen and women in welcoming the resolution of the impasse between the Federal Government of Nigeria and Twitter Inc., leading to the laying of a “foundation for a mutually beneficial future with endless possibilities.
“I join the leaders of government in appreciating all Nigerians, “especially the vibrant Nigerian youths, who have borne with the long wait to resolve this impasse,” and as the government statement clearly says, the gains made from this shared national sacrifice are immeasurable.
As many doubt the so-called immeasurable gains claim by the Federal Government, one of those calling for compensation for losses suffered by businesses is the Executive Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan.
She said: “It would have been ideal if the government can give some support to businesses affected by this illegal ban. But here we know we are not dealing with an ideal situation, and even if this case is brought before a court, there is no likelihood that any positive judgment will be implemented.”
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability (SERAP), which described the ban as a travesty of justice, called on the government to immediately pay reparations to the victims of the illegal ban.
The group, which threatened to file a lawsuit against the Federal Government to seek orders for adequate compensation and guarantees of non-repetition for the victims, in a statement, stressed: “We’ll pursue the suit for adequate compensation on behalf of all interested persons free of charge.
“Buhari’s administration has a legal obligation to effectively redress the consequences of the wrongful act of Twitter suspension,” SERAP said.
We’ll Never Cease Calling Out Bad, Ineffective Leaders
EVEN though Zack Igbokwe agrees with the Federal Government that digital platforms and their operators wield enormous influence over the fabric of our society, social interaction and economic choices, hence their use as either tools or weapons, he insists that whatever attempts made by the government to stifle free speech would always fail woefully.
“Many political office holders are simply ineffective and do not have any impact on the wellbeing of the people that they represent. Twitter has given us express access to them. And whatever the Federal Government does to whittle the powers of Twitter, or censor our posts, we will never cease calling them out for as long as they remain ineffective in office.
“There should be no peace for indolent officials that are using government offices to amass wealth, without creating a better society for us all. From our respective homes, offices, and sundry spaces, we should be heckling and haranguing them until they feel our pains and do the needful. Once this is sustained, it would lead to showing them the door at the next general election,” Igbokwe said.
Muyiwa Adegoke agrees with Igbokwe that immense criticism should be directed at non-performing elected and appointed officials until they change their ways, or get butted out of office.
“Pampering non-performing officials mean tolerating evil. Since the public office is about the provision of service, whoever is not providing service should be routinely made to feel the heat. Thankfully, platforms like Twitter can serve as vehicles to execute assignments like this. Just as we share communicate and transmit the good deeds of our political office holders, we should be unrelenting in putting their follies in the public domain,” Adegoke said.
On his part, a Twitter user, @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.”
We Never Went Away, Government Agencies, Officials Did
APART from government agencies and officials, privately-owned outfits who feared sanctions by the government and stayed off Twitter, a good number of Nigerian tweeps soldiered on riding on the back of VPN despite the government’s threat of prosecution.
Indeed, about three weeks after the AGF, Malami ordered the prosecution of Nigerians that were tweeting with VPN, the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, during an appearance before the House of Representatives committee investigating the ban urged those using VPN to “repent.”
“My advice to anybody using VPN is to stop it because when you use VPN, it exposes your entire data, including your bank account… I am serious. So, if you are using VPN and you think you are hurting Lai Mohammed, you are hurting yourself.”
This explains why Frank Edoho, a television host, filmmaker, photographer, and host of popular, but now rested TV show, ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’, in a tweet seen as sarcastic by many, said that the Federal Government should be welcoming itself back to Twitter, as most Nigerians never went off the platform.
Writing on his verified Twitter handle, @frankedoho, he said: “The Federal Government should just say they have decided to come back to Twitter instead of claiming to lift the ban.”
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.”
But for the CDD Executive Director, Hassan, “the Twitter ban took away the right of Nigerians to receive and impart information, and also infringed on their social and economic rights. All facets of Nigerians’ lives were affected, people couldn’t talk to their loved ones, newspaper reach was also reduced, while the government itself could not share information. The ban had a monumental effect than we would have ever imagined.
“Nigerians are overwhelmingly happy to be back on Twitter, the feeling is euphoric and can be likened to giving a little boy back his ice cream. People are finally getting their voices back,” she stated.
Hassan added: “It is true that fake news is real in Nigeria and driving division. The volume of disinformation going on online is voluminous, but the truth is that the link between offline and online in Nigeria is blurted. While the Buhari-led administration is focused on regulating social media, I wonder what her plan for the offline rumour mill would be. This clearly shows a lack of understanding of the problems of the people. The response should neither be a ban nor regulation. Instead, the focus should be on the timely dissemination of information to the public, promoting civic literacy and working with all social media platforms to develop a disinformation code akin to the European Union (EU) disinformation policy.
2023 Election Key Consideration For Unbanning Of Twitter
WHILE a section of Twitter users are insisting that they would continue the calling out of bad leaders and poor service providers, some have a different opinion. They allege that the decision to unban Twitter was taken with the 2023 general election in mind.
This much is captured in comments made by a former presidential aide, Reno Omokri, who said that lifting of the ban was due to the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
“The expectation that Twitter would move from Ghana to Nigeria will never happen. Twitter did not beg. Buhari bulged because elections are here!” He said.
On the losses incurred by Nigerian businesses, he said: “$750 million. In case you are wondering, that is exactly what Nigeria lost in 222 days of banning Twitter.
“So, if anybody is telling you that Nigeria won with the #TwitterBan, ask them to tell you what exactly Nigeria won. Nigeria lost big time!
Chukwuebuka Obi-Uchendu, a lawyer and media personality expressed his thoughts this way: “In time for election season,” he wrote on his Twitter handle, @Ebuka.
Another creative, Nse Ikpe-Etim, an actress, also writing on her verified Twitter handle, @NseIkpeEtim said: “Twitter must have an effect on elections. How convenient?”
Olamilekan Massoud Al-Khalifah Agbeleshebioba, a media personality, rapper, singer and songwriter known professionally as Laycon, also thinks along the line of his colleagues. Tweeting via his handle, @itsLaycon, the winner of the 2020 Big Brother Naija (BBN) reality television show said: I beg of you, get your PVC!”