By Akintayo Balogun
While just recovering from the declaration that Nigeria is a failed state by the United States’ Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), the news of an indefinite suspension of the operations of Twitter, the micro-blogging and social networking service, in Nigeria, on Friday, June 4, came as a massive shock to the Nigerian social media world, the country at large and even to the international community. Nigerians never saw the reaction of the government coming in this dimension, but here we are today without twitter (officially) on the internet space of Nigeria.
A cursory look at the action of the Nigerian government, shows that it has exercised an authority it ‘believes’ it has the power to exercise. However, the government failed to realize that the overreaching effect of this action is doing more damage than good to Nigeria and Nigerians. The Presidency would probably not have suspended twitter if its post had not been deleted. The action of the government, to say the least, is quite myopic, hasty, emotion-laden, unnecessary and adverse to the Nigerian populace and the Nigerian economy. This action is already placing Nigeria in a bad light, especially on the global watch.
The Buhari administration should know that this unfortunate suspension placed on twitter does not shield the government from criticism whatsoever, instead it has only opened up the government and the country at large to stronger criticisms, as a country where human rights are being violated. The repercussion of this grave act by the government is massive and self-destructive. The earlier the government retraces its steps and accepts that it acted out of emotions, the best it would be for the government and for Nigeria. This is not the first time the tweet of a president will be deleted. As a matter of fact, several tweets by former US President, Donald Trump, were deleted on the grounds that they violated the rules of the company, yet heavens did not fall. The American government did not suspend the operation of the organization whether temporary or indefinitely.
The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria is a direct breach of the constitutional rights of the Nigerian citizen as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, as Amended. The constitution expressly guarantees the freedom of speech to its citizens. Section 39(1) specifically provides for freedom of speech to Nigerians. The section reads thus: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
If the government believes that an expression of opinion or dissemination of opinion was not done within the ambit of the law, the government should deal with the expression and opinion and not the means by which the expression was made.
Moreover, the ban has placed Nigeria on a bad light before the international community rather than protect the country. The Ministry of Information had stated that twitter was suspended because of the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence. To worsen the situation, a circular came out on Saturday, June 5, wherein the Attorney General of the Federation directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF), to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication Commission and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy arrest, and prosecution of Nigerians still using twitter, despite its de-activation of operation in Nigeria. This to my mind is a full stamp and stomp on the violation of the Section 39(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement). The Attorney General of the Federation should know better, with all due respect to him and to the sacred office he holds.
Thirdly, the ban on the use of Twitter in Nigeria, places Nigeria on the same pedestal with the known dictatorial government in North Korea, the Communist government in China, Egypt, Turkey and Iran, where twitter has been banned for several years running. Particularly, the dictatorial government of North Korea is known to be one of the most ruthless, violent and brutal government on the surface of the earth. As part of its measure to gag and subdue its populace, especially in respect to its method of rulership, the North Korean dictator nearly shut down the entire internet system in the country in a bid to control the spread of information online. It is quite unfortunate that Nigeria now finds itself towing the same disreputable path and being categorized alongside North Korea as a country that limits access to the internet. It is quite pathetic.
Fourthly, this is a continuous attempt by the federal government to gag the media and subject it to only what is approved by the government or what paints the government in good light.
Fifthly, the ban on twitter has already impacted negatively on the economic activities in the country. Millions of Nigerians source their income through various activities on twitter. This action of the government is definitely grounding all that. Many news platforms that leveraged on twitter to reach out to Nigerians would be suffering a shortfall by now. The telecommunication industry is also not left out because there would definitely be a dip in data revenue, which depend largely on their activities on twitter. An estimate by Netblocks suggests that Nigeria will lose N2.18 billion per day for blocking the operations twitter. New generation companies in Nigeria that do not have physical building anywhere in Nigeria but have utilized twitter in running their online businesses, now stands the risk of collapse, thanks to suspension.
Sixthly, against the tall order suspending twitter, the ingenious Nigerian techies are already devising techniques to remain active on twitter in Nigeria, using other means, thereby rendering the proclamation of the government a huge joke.
It is imperative that the government express its displeasure to twitter in a better way than throwing away the bath water with the baby. Now, everyone including the government suffers the unfortunate effect of the suspension. Has the government done well or further deepened the overgrown disbelief in its potency among Nigerians in the last few months? The government should not block a flowing river in the middle and expect it to stop. The water will definitely find its way; they should block the source. The government should deal with the Nigerian problem and not try to fight the product of a failed system. As long as we fight the product, we will have more products to fight.
The government can prevent inflammatory rhetoric and hate speech, the government can take steps to report to twitter and other social media outlets, any speech, write up, video or audio that is “capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence” instead of shutting up everyone, including itself. We are at some very dire times in Nigeria at present. Shutting down the voice of the average Nigerian would be counterproductive, they will only shout louder and cause more havoc than imagined.
A decision like this can only further weaken the fragile legs of the Nigerian economy. If the federal government is trying to control or manage the use of twitter and other social media devices, a total suspension of its operation is never the solution to the problem. Water would always find its course. The frustrations of Nigerians would be let out, one way or the other.
Balogun Esq., is a legal practitioner based in Abuja.