In Africa, unlike in years past where the best citizens could stage uncoordinated and short-lived protests without making headways, social media has opened an unprecedented opportunity for people to make community collective choices.
People affected by a set of governing rules can participate in the approval, implementation, modification, and application of those rules. If unsatisfied, they can also voice out, making their opinions known about governmental policies
Even as digital platforms are frequently lauded as a liberation technology, some governments are increasingly clamping down on social media to curtail freedoms, like the case in Nigeria.
Although the Nigerian legislative arm has tried but failed to enact laws to regulate social media use, it has never shut down the technology that allows communication through social media. Presently, the narrative has changed.
June 4, 2021 witnessed the spat between the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) led government and Twitter, culminating in the suspension of Twitter operations in the country.
While the government’s unchecked move may not be unconnected to the #EndSARS movement of 2020, the ban is a dangerous slide into dictatorship, regressing Nigeria to a reign of terror during the past military regimes.
The ban, coming after Twitter pulled down a provocative tweet posted by President Muhammadu Buhari because it violated the platform’s rules against “abusive behaviour”, is viewed by many as a thinly disguised retaliatory act.
As stated by Nigeria’s Innovation Support Network, the announcement puts Nigeria on an infamous list of countries that have banned Twitter. As you would expect, these countries appear to also have abysmal rankings on the UN’s Human Rights Index and Freedom House Global Freedom Scores including Iran (16/100), China (9/100), North Korea (3/100), and Turkmenistan (2/100).
Our government claims to be democratic, but this present course of action indicates that nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps, what the Nigerian government finds galling is the discipline Twitter administered, under the direction of its Chief Executive Officer, Jack Dorsey, on the president of the country.
We live in a country, hovering on the brink of a major inter-ethnic further heightened by insecurity, banditry, terrorism, just to mention a few, the outright suspension of Twitter is a tactical error on the part of Nigerian leaders.
Already, the government has revealed its intention to license over-the-top media services. This outright suspension of Twitter sets a precedence for future restriction of other social media platforms in the country.
From all indication, the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Telegram, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Netflix, etc., might be next on the government’s radar.
In a statement published on June 7, the National Broadcasting Commission ordered all broadcasters to suspend patronage of Twitter immediately and stop using the social media company as a “source of information gathering for news and programmes.
“It will be unpatriotic for any broadcaster in Nigeria to continue to patronise the suspended Twitter as a source of its information, therefore strict compliance is enjoined,” the NBC further stated.
In response to the infuriating directive, several organisations and bodies have risen up to tackle this issue headlong, calling for a reversal in the government’s decision to ban Twitter.
According to the Deputy Director of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Kolawole Oluwadare, the directive by the NBC is itself unlawful because it is based on another unlawful decision by the Federal Government to suspend Twitter in Nigeria.
“NBC’s directive has political interference written all over it. It is a blow to Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, media freedom, media independence, and diversity. The directive must be immediately withdrawn,” he added.
The Nigerian government is three-armed where the executive, legislative, and judiciary are supposed to act as watchdogs to checkmate one another.
Apparently, this is not the case as the supposed ‘protectors of justice’, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice have threatened to arrest anyone who continues to tweet after the announced suspension.
Accordingly, leaders of Civil Society Organisations in the country have stated that they will continue to tweet in spite of the ban on Twitter operations.
In a press statement jointly signed on Monday, they avowed that the move by the government to prosecute Twitter users is in itself “a violation of human rights and an utter abuse of power.”
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch