June 8, 2021/Proshare
by CSL Research
Barely 3 days after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet was deleted for violating the microblogging platform community rules, the government announced an indefinite ban on the operations of the social networking service in Nigeria. As expected, this generated a public outrage by the Nigerian Twittersphere as many considered the policy decision despotic and in violation of the citizens’ human rights. The government, in defence of its action, noted that the suspension is in response to the persistent use of the platform for activities capable of undermining the corporate existence of Nigeria. The federal government also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to commence the process of licensing all over the top media services (OTT) and social media operations in Nigeria. MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9mobile, and other networks have restricted network access to the Twitter platform. Currently, the platform can be accessed through Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Does Nigeria have a right from a legal point of view to banning Twitter? The critics of the decision argue that Nigeria’s constitution guarantees the right of association and right of expression. In a 21st century world, the right to association is not always a physical gathering. Social media is a mode of gathering and by banning Twitter, one could make a case that the government has stifled the rights of Nigerians to gather and express themselves. While acknowledging the fact that governments can restrict certain accesses during times of conflict or in the national interest. Critics of the move do not believe the action was taken for that reason.
The high rate of unemployment and the squeeze in consumer purchasing power amidst the continued rise in inflation have left many Nigerians impoverished. As a result, many have resorted to taking advantage of the online opportunities offered by the internet industry. There has been a rise in the number of digital marketers, freelancers, influencers, online vendors, social media managers, podcasters, content creators etc. Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) use social media networks to connect to a large customer base. This ban puts a major source of livelihood for many of these people at risk. Social media has become the most effective way for businesses to reach new audiences on a global scale. Besides, many Nigerians rely on social media platforms especially Twitter for quick and easy access to information.
According to an international watchdog organization, Netblocks, the country has lost over N6bn as a result of the ban. A study by the World Bank Group established a correlation between increased broadband penetration and an increase in per capita GDP. Internet or social media shutdowns such as this have been established to cost sub-Saharan countries millions of dollars. Beyond the economic cost in monetary terms, the negative consequences for businesses seeking investments and partnerships from foreign investors may not be easy to quantify.