For the past few months, the federal government has been receiving a fair amount of public backlash from its citizens and the Western powers over the ban placed on Twitter, a very popular microblogging site. The ban, which was announced by the Federal Minister of Information and Culture, came into effect after Twitter deleted a tweet made by President Muhammadu Buhari, explaining that this violated its policy on ‘abusive behavior’. While many social media users quickly expressed their discomfort with the ban and devised ways of bypassing it, many also celebrated it as a long overdue move. In this essay, I am going to open-mindedly discuss both sides of the coin – the appropriateness and inappropriateness of the Twitter ban in Nigeria.
There are people in support of the ban for different reasons. Those who believe this present administration is the best thing to happen to Nigeria feel that Twitter daring to censor the Nigerian president by removing his tweet is beyond embarrassing and a grievous interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. The ban, according to people in this camp, is necessary because Twitter has persistently been used for activities capable of undermining Nigeria’s ‘corporate existence’ through the spread of fake news and hate speech that could have violent consequences. Some are also of the view that the ban is required for economic reasons to make Twitter realize that it needs Nigeria more than Nigeria needs it. To this set of people, when the ban is lifted, Twitter should register in Nigeria, obtain licenses from the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and start paying tax, thereby generating revenue to the national treasury.
On the other hand, access to a free and open internet is an essential human right. In a digital age like this, social media platforms serve as important tools for communication, education and enlightenment. Moreover, they’re used for commercial purposes particularly by the younger generation who suffer from an atrocious unemployment rate. The Twitter ban in the eyes of most economic observers literally worsened the already bad unemployment situation in the country, making it ever more difficult for young people to reach their audience and earn their daily bread. More, political pundits who oppose the ban assert that it is a threat to our civil liberties and that it contravenes our fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
In my opinion, the federal government has long been obsessed with the idea of regulating social media. Twitter’s reaction to the President’s inciteful tweet was therefore seen as the final straw. But gagging the voice of the people in the democratic system of government that Nigeria is said to be practicing is unconstitutional. Kindly recall General Muhammadu Buhari’s recent interview with Arise TV where he was asked about the October 2020 #EndSARS protest (which was spearheaded by Twitter influencers), and he responded that he believed the protest was aimed at ousting him from his office. I think the top politicians who pushed for the ban are the ones enjoying the bountiful benefits coming from the present regime. That explains their gluttonous need for the present administration to continue in office, because if the President indeed gets overthrown via popular protests, the benefits they enjoy on the daily would obviously cease.
In conclusion, I think the ban placed on Twitter showcases the undemocratic tendencies of the Nigerian ruling class and the president especially. Nonetheless, there’s an advantageous side to to all of this because it has resulted in Nigerians becoming more exposed to and aware of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) that lets them visit any site they want in safety and anonymity. The use of VPN to access Twitter has extended our common topics of conversation to the international community, making them aware of the daily happenings in the country and totally defeating the purpose of the ban. Ban or not, we move!