On January 13, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari lifted the ban against Twitter operations in Nigeria. This was after 222 days or seven months of the ban. As expected, this lift generated mixed reactions and controversies about the true intentions of the federal government especially with the forthcoming 2023 general elections where several political campaigns are expected to kickstart either physically or on social media, Twitter inclusive. Rebecca Ejifoma, Ayodeji Ake, and Sunday Ehigiator, who chronicled how various stakeholders reacted to the unbanning of Twitter, ponder on whether Nigeria actually won given the billions of naira the nation lost, especially for small businesses
On June 4, 2021, the federal government, through a statement by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, suspended Twitter after the bird-app temporarily suspended President Muhammadu Buhari’s Twitter account, and removed a tweet by him, where he threatened to punish regional secessionists.
President Buhari in the tweet was warning the Southeastern people of Nigeria, predominantly Igbo people, of a potential repeat of the 1967 Biafran Civil War due to the ongoing insurgency in the region.
The FG claimed that the deletion of the president’s tweets factored into their decision, but it was ultimately based on “a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real-world violent consequences,” citing the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Furthermore, Telecom companies subsequently were directed to block Twitter’s access to users in Nigeria; and this order was executed on June 5, 2021.
Condemnation Trails Ban
Immediately, several reactions trailed the ban. It was condemned by Amnesty International, the British, Canadian, and Swedish diplomatic missions to Nigeria, as well as the United States and the European Union in a joint statement.
Two domestic organisations, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Nigerian Bar Association, indicated intent to challenge the ban in court. Twitter itself called the ban “deeply concerning.”
Former U.S. President, Donald Trump, who was banned on Twitter months before Nigeria’s ban, praised the ban, saying “Congratulations to the country of Nigeria, who just banned Twitter because they banned their President,” and also called on other countries to ban Twitter and Facebook due to “not allowing free and open speech.”
Reliance on VPN
While the ban lasted, some Nigerians, were still tweeting. They circumvented the process by installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
VPN is a technology that encrypts your Internet traffic on unsecured networks to protect your online identity and hide your details.
Consequently, several Nigerians resorted to accessing Twitter with the aid of VPN Apps, which enables internet privacy, by giving users the leverage of changing their country location (i.e. a user in Nigeria, could change his internet access location to the United States of America).
This way, several Twitter users were still able to access the app from Nigeria, however, it was no longer business as usual, as there were concerns among other Nigerians about the safety of the VPN from hackers, who they fear could access their private information through it.
Three days after the ban, it was reported that the ban has cost the country over N6 billion and also contributed to the worsening unemployment in the country.
Express VPN reported an over 200 per cent increase in web traffic and searches for VPN spiked across the country. In response, Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami at first openly threatened to prosecute citizens who bypass the ban using VPN, but then denied saying so after a screenshot of a Twitter deactivation notification he shared on Facebook showed a VPN logo.
Conditions to Lift Ban
After several calls and protests against the actions of the FG, in reaction, Nigeria’s Cultural Minister Lai Mohammed stated that the ban would be lifted once Twitter submitted to local licensing, registration, and conditions.
“It will be licensed by the broadcasting commission, and must agree not to allow its platform to be used by those who are promoting activities that are inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria.”
On October 1, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari in his Independence day broadcast said Twitter must meet the Nigerian government’s five conditions before the suspension of the social media platform will be lifted.
The condition includes; Twitter must pay attention to national security and cohesion; Registration, physical presence, and representation in Nigeria; Fair taxation; Dispute resolution, and; Local content.
FG Lifts Ban
It is not yet clear if all these conditions have been met by Twitter, however, on January 12, 2022, the FG lifted the ban after Twitter allegedly agreed to establish “a legal entity in Nigeria during the first quarter of 2022.”
On January 11, 2022, the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) said in a statement that President Buhari had approved to lift the suspension of Twitter, effective from midnight on January 13, 2022.
The statement says Twitter will create “a legal entity in Nigeria during the first quarter of 2022,” and that the company has “agreed to comply with applicable tax obligations on its operations under Nigerian law.”
It further revealed that Twitter will also “enroll Nigeria in its Partner Support and Law Enforcement Portals,” which gives police tools to request and retain data on users.
Reacting to this development on January 13, Twitter wrote on its public policy account that it was delighted with the restoration of its services in Nigeria.
“We are pleased that Twitter has been restored for everyone in Nigeria. Our mission in Nigeria and around the world is to serve the public conversation.
“We are deeply committed to Nigeria, where Twitter is used by people for commerce, cultural engagement, and civic participation. We’re committed to integrating diverse perspectives that make our service better for everyone,” the tweet simply read.
Speculations on Influence of 2023 Elections
Following the lifting of the ban, it was greeted with mixed reactions with most Nigerians attributing the decision to lift the ban to the forthcoming general election in 2023 and the government’s intention to use the platform for its campaign.
According to a Twitter user, Ugo Ugwoke, “the Nigerian government lifted the ban on Twitter not because they care about the people but because elections are around the corner and they will need a Twitter platform for their social media campaigns.
“Election is around the corner, so they want to act like saints. I hope Nigerians will be wise this time around.”
Sani Kadiri asked, “What’s an election campaign without Twitter?”
Another user, Idris, said he knew when campaign season is around the corner, the ban will be lifted.
Queen Esther Iroanusi tweeted, “Not FG lifting the #TwitterBan 13 months to the election, so they can come back and use this same social media to campaign. Affliction shall not rise a second time.”
Akintunde Babatunde wrote, “They had to lift the #Twitterban. The election is near. They need the platform more than ever. Shameless people. #KeepitOn.”
Another user, Henry Shield said, “Imagine there was no VPN. This government was ready to keep us in the dark and shut us off from the world because Buhari got angry.
“How can any sensible person campaign for this party to remain in power beyond 2023?”
While another user, Pamilerin Adegoke wrote, “To those that left Twitter after the suspension, welcome back. Nigerians have been tweeting with VPN throughout the ban.”
Another user simply identified as Haven, said, “Election season, about to see rubbish posts from the Nigerian political slave foot soldiers given 200 Naira recharge cards to misbehave. Nobody is as rich as their slave master who cannot justify the source of his wealth either his real age.”
Another user with the handle @theeghostguy, simply wrote, “Election is here.” Same as Jeffrey Ikpeze with the handle @jeffreeO9, who also wrote “Elections are around the corner.”
A user identified as Jon, through his account @jrhazz, said, “Watch them use it vigorously for their agenda.”
While Don Alex via @adon05631 tweeted, “Both brave and intelligent Nigerians have been tweeting, Next news.”
A user identified as Salem via his handle, @Salem31268149, noted, “I didn’t even notice the ban.”
Harm to Small Businesses
While another user identified by Dr. Dipo Awojide, via his handle, @OgbeniDipo, wrote, “The Twitter ban ruined lives and destroyed small businesses. It was needless and unproductive.
“The government did not achieve anything banning Twitter in Nigeria. I honestly hope this never happens again. The Twitter ban was a needless decision. Glad the FG has now lifted the ban, right in time for the battles on political Twitter per 2023 elections.”
Popular comedian, Frank Donga in his reaction said, “My heart and tweet goes out to all the small businesses that lost revenue and opportunities during the #TwitterBan. May you find creative ways to recover speedily.”
Anger at Telecommunication Companies
Not left out of the fray for obeying government’s orders were telecommunication companies who blocked Nigerians from accessing Twitter.
On this, a lawyer simply identified as Ridwan, tweeted, “When we are done with @MBuhari, let’s talk about the telecommunication companies that obeyed an illegal order from the Federal Government. Those guys prioritised their business interests over the fundamental rights of millions of Nigerians.
“When an illegal order is given to you by a draconian government, the first thing you do is to approach the court to seek protection from such an order. Instead, they obeyed, despite knowing that it has no legal basis.”
Towing the same line of thoughts, another user, Adetola Olutosin, while reacting to MTN’s ‘we are back’ tweet wrote, “Fascist enablers, at least you guys dispel the myth that private corps exist to entrench democracy. If fascism is profitable, you won’t hesitate to throw the people under the bus.”
Call for Retribution
For Inibehe Effiong, the lifting of the ban on Twitter does not call for celebration. It calls for retribution by the sane, conscious, and conscientious electorates during the next elections.
“As Nigerians, we must imbibe the culture of punishing parties and officeholders, who inflict pains on us.
“A regime/party that stifles free speech, promotes draconian policies, and suffocates citizens should be dealt with at the polls by citizens. That is how we are going to build an accountable and viable democratic country with the rule of law. Buhari’s regime shouldn’t be praised.”
Notable Nigerian celebrities also equally took to social media, especially Twitter, to state their opinion over the sudden coincidental lift of the ban.
Popular Nigerian Record Producer, Don Jazzy wrote, “Thank God they are lifting the ban. I have loads of goodies incoming for you guys. It’s going to be a year like never before. Be ready.”
Ex-Big Brother Naija (BBN) Housemate, Tacha, wrote: “Funny how the government is unbanning Twitter just in time for the elections, all to gain cheap points, funny people.”
2020 BBN Winner, Laycon, in his reaction, enjoined other Nigerians, to get their Permanent Voter Card (PVC) ready. He said, “I beg of you, get your PVC.”
Also, Ex-BBN Housemate, Asogwa Alex, in her reaction said, “Good day, if many people haven’t stated it, the Twitter ban was lifted because of elections. You can choose to disagree. Be wise.”
Media personality Ebuka Obi-Uchendu wrote: “In time for the election season.”
Popular Tv Host, Frank Edoho said, “The Federal Government should just say they have decided to come back to Twitter instead of claiming to lift the ban.”
Popular Comedian and Human Rights Activist, Mr. Macaroni in his reaction via a tweet said, “Oh! Oh!! Are they tired? Welcome back. You people banned yourselves, not Twitter. It was you who left! We never left.”
Media Personality, Fisayo Soyombo, via his handle @fisayosoyombo, wrote, “Twitter ban that Buhari was supposed to lift on the eve of the 2023 presidential election. This APC does not have liver.”
Political Elites Join Fray
In his reaction, the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President Muhammadu Buhari, Garba Shehu noted said, “Welcome back! Let me join fellow countrymen and women in welcoming the resolution of the impasse between the Federal Government of Nigeria and Twitter Inc., leading to the laying of a foundation for a mutually beneficial future with endless possibilities.
“I join the leaders of government in appreciating all Nigerians, especially the vibrant Nigerian youths who have borne with the long wait to resolve this impasse, and as the government statement clearly says, the gains made from this shared national sacrifice are immeasurable. We hope that this is appreciated by all. The nation comes first. Once again, welcome back!”
Also reacting to the lifting of the ban, former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, through his Twitter handle, @realFFK, simply wrote, “Welcome back to @Twitter Nigeria!”
Also reacting, a Nigerian Senator, Senator Shehu Sani, via his Twitter handle, @ShehuSan, wrote, “Twitter ban lifted; We can now remove the ‘VPN oxygen mask’ that sustained us through such imposed suffocating and dark moments.”
In his reaction to the lifting of the ban, the Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, (SAN), via his Twitter, handle, @Fkeyamo, said, “For those who prioritised politics over patriotism and exhibited disingenuous righteousness on Twitter suspension, they can now see that with all the FG conditions to which Twitter agreed, Nigeria is eventually better off for it. Congratulations Nigeria.”
Also reacting, the National leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and an aspirant in the 2023 presidential race, Bola Tinubu, commended the FG for the lifting of the ban, while also noting that Twitter could be misused by Nigerians.
In his first post on the platform after over 222 days, said social media including Twitter enabled the social and economic empowerment of Nigerians stating that he was glad the government recognised this.
Tinubu through his handle, @AsiwajuTinubu, tweeted, “Social media – indeed all media – including Twitter, are a means for us to all communicate, report, share and engage with stories and each other; to enable economic and social empowerment for Nigerians. But they can be and sometimes are misused.
“I commend the FG for recognising these aspects and most importantly, concluding negotiations for the safe return of access to Twitter to the millions of Nigerians who use it, daily. Welcome back, one and all.”
Also reacting, former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar said, “The effects of the #TwitterBan, particularly on small businesses, was evident for all to see.
“I am glad that the ban has finally been lifted, and our young people who are already dealing with the challenging business environment can now have a breath of fresh air to thrive.”
Similarly, former Senate President of Nigeria, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki said, “After 222 days, I am glad that the FG has finally reconsidered and reversed the #TwitterBan.
“With this reversal, the young people who conduct legitimate business on this platform can once again pursue their various endeavours and exercise their right to freedom of speech.”
Reacting to the lifting of the ban, Amnesty International described the ban as “illegal in the first place,” and therefore advised the FG to end all acts that violate rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of the press.
Amnesty International, in a terse statement posted on its verified Twitter handle, @amnestyInternational, said, “Amnesty International welcomes the lifting of the Twitter ban by Nigerian authorities after seven months of depriving Nigerians of exercising their right to freedom of expression on a social media platform that facilitates dialogue and empowers everyone to communicate, hold useful debates and conversations, and demand accountability from the Nigerian authorities.
“The Twitter ban was illegal in the first place and an attack on the right to freedom of expression, including online access to information and media freedom. Nigerian authorities must end all acts that violate rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of the press.”
Also reacting, The Executive Director, Adopt A Goal for Development Initiative (AGDI), Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said, “The ban on Twitter was equally a test of the resilience of Nigerians, especially the youth who saw the federal government’s action as personal to the president, selfish and undemocratic, and so we’re able to navigate the ban with the use of several Virtual Private Networks (VPN).
“Nothing is cheering or worth celebrating with the lifting of the ban because it was unnecessary, parochial, and self-serving. The federal government did not ban Twitter for the national interest but regime protection.
“We do not expect Twitter to succumb to undemocratic conditions because there are minimum global standards and thresholds that Twitter cannot fall below in terms of protecting the rights of users in civic technology spaces.
“There is nothing wrong if the government can get Twitter through to register, pay taxes and employ a few Nigerians, but using these conditions to negotiate was an afterthought after drawing criticism for ego-banning Twitter to protect the President.
“The ban on Twitter had exposed the regime as intolerant and President Buhari as unrepentant of his dictatorial tendency. We expect some level of monitoring, but it will change nothing because people critical of the Buhari regime are expected to do more as we enter the election season.
“Nigerians enjoy the freedom of speech and association as enshrined in the constitution, and nothing can take that away, even though no freedom is absolute.”
Also reacting, the Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Prince Deji Adeyanju, said the Federal Government has tarnished Nigeria’s image in the comity of nations whether lifting the Twitter ban or not.
Adeyanju said, “The Twitter ban was an anti-democratic act, it has no basis in law because our constitution has made explicit provision, and Nigerians have the right to fully express themselves and receive information.
“So the ban is a contravention of the right of Nigerians to receive, hold and share opinions on social media, especially on mobile app Twitter.
“The only exceptions; the Freedom of Expression it has been for public safety and health, order, morality, and the ban did not fall within those exceptions of their omnibus clause of the constitution because the only reason why Twitter was banned because the ego of the President was affected; he made a hate speech against the Igbos and Twitter rightly deleted his tweet, and how does the ego of the President been bruised amount to the exceptions of the omnibus clause put in the constitution? It does not fall within the exception.
“I believe that we are supposed to be in a constitutional democracy but this is a totalitarian regime.
“The action of the government of course is shrinking the civic space because you can see a majority of the people in the last 222 days were using VPN to tweet. It has affected businesses in the country and several other things and limited the rights of citizens and this cannot be acceptable in a democracy.
“Many of us defied the ban because it is the minimum in a democracy that when authoritarian regimes bear their fangs it is the responsibility of the citizens to live up to their responsibility and claim their rights.
“No government will ever concede your right to you if you do not lay claim to it, and that was exactly what happened during #ENDSARS that citizens woke up to their responsibility and they said no these barbaric killings, this violation of fundamental human right, extrajudicial killings cannot happen, and this was what many of us did.
“We were ready to go to jail as threatened by Malami and we defied them and the government ban. Nigerians must continue to defy the tyrannical acts of their government because in the words of Thomas Jefferson, ‘When the government fears the people there is democracy and when the people fear the government there is tyranny.”
Similarly, the Founder and Global President, One Love Foundation
(OLF), Chief Patrick Eholor, in his reactions, said the Federal Government punishing Nigerians before lifting the Twitter ban was insensitive.
According to him, “We receive with joy and mixed feelings that the Twitter ban has been reversed by the federal government but the position of One Love Foundation is that the ban was illegal and unconstitutional.
“I, therefore, want to say that if the government fears its citizens, it is freedom, and this steps again to remind our people who have been very docile that power belongs to the people and that without the people there is no government.
“It is a mixed feeling to me that is coming at this time to lift the ban of Twitter after he (Buhari) has punished us as citizens, and not just only punished us, we have lost a lot of money because people depend on this and people are making a living out of this.”
According to the NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool, Nigeria lost N104.02 million ($250,600) every hour to the ban, bringing the daily losses to N2.46 billion.
Going by this calculation, by June 13, it was 5,328 hours in the 222 days since the social networking site was blocked, and about N546.5 billion was already lost by the economy.
According to digital report 2021 by Hootsuite, a social media and marketing dashboard, Twitter’s potential advertising audience compared to the total population aged 13 plus in Nigeria is 2.4 per cent, while the quarter-on-quarter change in Twitter’s advertising reach is 17.3 per cent.
The implication of this is that Twitter’s penetration in the country is still very low compared to other platforms. Analytically, it equally means that it is unlikely that these 3.05 million adverts’ audience would be impacted by the American company.
Former Presidential Aide to Former President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, in his reaction, posited that the lifting of the Twitter suspension in Nigeria by the federal government was due to the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
Omokri, said this via a series of tweets on his page, claiming that Nigeria lost $750 million because of the Twitter ban.
He tweeted, “$750 million. In case you are wondering, that is exactly what Nigeria lost in 222 days of banning Twitter. So, if anybody is telling you that Nigeria won with the #TwitterBan, ask them to tell you what exactly Nigeria won. Nigeria lost big time!
“The claim that Twitter agreed to allow Buhari’s junta to regulate Twitter users in Nigeria is as fake as Buhari’s integrity. The expectation that Twitter would move from Ghana to Nigeria will never happen. Twitter did not beg. Buhari bulged because elections are here!”
“The Twitter ban ruined lives and destroyed small businesses. It was needless and unproductive. The government did not achieve anything banning Twitter in Nigeria. I honestly hope this never happens again”
“$750 million. In case you are wondering, that is exactly what Nigeria lost in 222 days of banning Twitter. So, if anybody is telling you that Nigeria won with the #TwitterBan, ask them to tell you what exactly Nigeria won. Nigeria lost big time”