Thursday, January 13, 2022

Nigeria lifts its ban on Twitter after 7 months

The Nigerian government has lifted its ban on Twitter, seven months after the West African country's more than 200 million people were shut out of the social media network.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari directed that Twitter's operations can resume on Thursday, according to the director-general of the country's National Information Technology Development Agency. Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi said that was only after Twitter agreed to meet some conditions, including opening an office in Nigeria.

Nigeria suspended Twitter's operation on June 4, citing "the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria's corporate existence." The action triggered criticisms as it came shortly after the social media network deleted a post by Buhari in which he threatened to treat separatists "in the language they will understand."

This week's action "is a deliberate attempt to recalibrate our relationship with Twitter to achieve the maximum mutual benefits for our nation without jeopardizing the justified interests of the company. Our engagement has been very respectful, cordial, and successful," Abdullahi said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to registering in Nigeria during the first quarter of 2022, Abdullahi said Twitter has also agreed to other conditions including appointing a designated country representative, complying with tax obligations and acting "with a respectful acknowledgement of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history on which such legislation has been built."

The lifting of the ban, though a good thing, offers little hope because "whether the government likes it or not, one thing they have actually done is that they have gagged Nigerians," said Idayat Hassan, who leads the West Africa-focused Centre for Democracy and Development.

"They have violated the right to receive and impact information," Hassan said, adding that the Nigerian government should instead prioritize "openness and effective information flow."

There are no official estimates of the economic cost of Twitter's shutdown in Africa's most populous country since June 4 when it was announced, but NetBlocks, which estimates the cost of internet shutdowns worldwide, said Nigeria could be losing N103.1 million (US$251,000) in every hour of the blockade.

In the course of the shutdown, many young people have been finding a way around the ban by turning to virtual private network (VPN) apps, but corporate services -- some of which the Nigerian economy relies on -- have remained shut out.

Authorities have also set the ball rolling on regulating other social networks in the West African country. In August 2021, information minister Lai Mohammed told the government news agency that "we will not rest until we regulate the social media, otherwise, nobody will survive it."

But the government's claim it must regulate social networks to fight fake news has been repeatedly contested by many activists. While it is true that "the weaponization of information to spread fake news in Nigeria is quite high," an emphasis on countering fake news just online is actually defeating the purpose because it is both online and offline in Nigeria," said CDD director Hassan.'

By Chinedu Asadu


Related story: Trump congratulates Nigeria for Twitter ban, says more countries should do the same

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