Implications of the Twitter ban in Nigeria — By Augusta Nneka
The suspension of activities for the social media platform: twitter, was an action that stunned majority of the Nigerian populace. When the Nigerian federal government made the initial announcement, many dismissed it, believing it to be another idle threat. Nobody expected the government to follow through. This act will become a sign that the government was indeed taking obvious steps to censor media outlets in the country. The action quickly reminded Nigerians of the Social Media Bill that sought to monitor the information spread across social media platforms. To discuss properly the implications of this bold move by the Federal Government especially on the practice and realities of our politics, the politics we want invited a political expert, media consultant and public policy analyst; Mr. Chima Christian.
In his introduction, Mr. Chima Christian explained that past actions of the presidency should have warned the citizenry of the personality of the current leadership. He described the implementation of the twitter ban as an action expected from the president, known to be undemocratic in his public policies and politics. He identified the unapologetic image projected by the presidency following the controversial tweet about the secession agitation as an inkling of the true nature of the President and his policies.
When asked if the ban came as a result of a perceived threat from using twitter as a mobilization platform for youths, the analyst agreed that the usage of the platform during the #EndSARS protest might have been a factor. It was unfortunate that the presidency failed to comprehend the grievances of the people and rather, chose to deal with the protest as a challenge to the federal government. This, to him, displayed a complete lack of understanding to the struggles the peaceful protest tried to preach. He went ahead to remind Nigerians that this was not the first time the government would try to curb the activities of social media.
“I think EndSARS protest was not about removing him from office. People had legitimate concerns they wanted the government to address, and the concerns were clearly defined. But, he saw it as people that wanted to remove him from office”.
In his reaction to the sentiment describing twitter as a platform for the organization of criminal activities and a threat to the national security of the country, Mr. Chima dismissed such statements as false. According to him, when there are grievances, people will try to find a way to express such displeasure. Twitter was that platform for Nigerians. Depriving people the means to express themselves freely will only lead to extremism that might culminate in terrorist attacks. He gave an example of the Boko Haram terrorist group that is ravaging the northern part of Nigeria. This was an example of how people react when their initial complains are ignored. The media consultant explained that national interest is roughly defined as a tool for preserving the interest of the people in power, which is a very wrong sentiment. He disagreed with the idea that twitter was a threat to Nigeria’s national interest, stating that the allegation on its own spoke volumes of the character of the politicians Nigerians had elected.
Addressing the implication of the ban, the public policy expert clarified that contrary to popular opinion, the twitter ban was a deliberate move by the government in their bid to maintain power.
“The twitter space is being seen as a place where you attack the President unnecessarily, they see the twitter space as a space where people come to complain. They wanted to double down. Buhari has always been a strong man, and in all his public utterances, in all his public policies approaches, he always choose the option that depicts him as a strong man. What he did with twitter is in line with what he always does with every public policy you know… it always a straight line, hammer and nail approach. It achieves their own strategic of preserving their regime.”
He went further to state that analysis have shown that the country is losing money from this decision of the government. Already, we have lost international respect and the country is now considered as a democracy in decline. The swiftness of the implementation also showed the influence the government controls in the business sector. The fact that the telecommunication networks were strong-armed and none of them could resist, displayed the reality of government power in controlling private businesses. He agreed that the ban of the social media platform indeed served the strategic purpose of the government but the sacrifice it cost, was too great for Nigerians.
Arguing on the need to regulate social media, he supported the idea to regulate the social media space, but not on the existing conditions stipulated on the social media bill. He clarified that the volume of data and information released on social media was too important for the country to leave unchecked. However, he stated that to pass such a policy properly, the government should first earn the trust of Nigerians and practice true democracy.
“I agree that social media needs to be regulated, but the government needs to find the trust and earn the trust of Nigerians. They should bring sensible pieces of legislations especially as regards to Data Management and Uncensored ads… my advice to the government is bring up ideas on how to regulate social media.”
In his concluding remarks, to ensure the continuous participation of youths in politics and governance, the political consultant advised young people to harness the time and energy they have now and register for their permanent voters’ card. He encouraged them to partake in physical political activities, and register in political parties. He asked them to channel their dissatisfaction towards improving their political participation, to create a better Nigeria. He opined that active political participation was the only practical and legal way to improve politics and governance in the country.