Nigerian Government Bans Twitter

In early June 2021, the government of Nigeria announced that it had indefinitely suspended Twitter within its borders, according to Reuters. This announcement came just two days after Twitter removed a post made by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari which contained a veiled threat towards regional secessionists in the southeast, tweeting about “[treating] them in the language they understand.” Information minister Lai Mohammed said that the government had decided to ban the social media platform due to “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence” through the spreading of fake news which have “violent consequences.” In what many have called an ironic move, the ban was announced by the government via Twitter.

In the few weeks since the announcement of the ban, the government has directed federal prosecutors to arrest anyone still using Twitter and has ordered internet providers to block any access to the site, reports The Washington Post. The ban has also garnered criticism from within and outside of Nigeria as well. Musicians, opposition politicians, and even some ruling-party politicians have expressed disagreement with the ban, arguing that it infringes on Nigerians’ civil liberties. A statement put out by 41 human rights organizations and religious groups condemned the ban as well.

In addition, many Nigerians have criticized the government’s Twitter ban beyond its impact on freedom of expression. There are economic implications for banning Twitter in Nigeria, because a large number of Nigerians rely on the platform for economic reasons. Many employers use Twitter to circulate job openings, and start-ups use Twitter to attract investment. This is significant, as Nigeria is the country with the most start-ups in Africa.

However, some Nigerian citizens have risked arrest to continue using Twitter on virtual private networks, or VPNs. According to Gbenga Sesan of the Paradigm Initiative, an organization which offers digital opportunities to young people across Africa, the government’s ban backfired. “Guess what? The only people who have been muted right now appear to be the government themselves. Yes, some businesses are not tweeting because clearly they do not want to be punished, but the citizens they were trying to proscribe are still tweeting,” Sesan told the BBC.

Nigerians have been using social media, including Twitter, to put pressure on internet providers to restore access to the site, and some have been using social media to coordinate legal services for anyone who was arrested for evading the ban, reports The Washington Post. These tactics are similar to the ones used by Nigerians during the #EndSARS movement, which protested the abuses and brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian police. Through social media, immense support was raised for the #EndSARS movement from across the world, and Twitter had even created a custom emoji for the campaign’s hashtag on the platform.

The Nigerian government’s ban of Twitter is flawed on many levels. Firstly, and most clearly, banning Twitter is an infringement on the civil liberties of Nigerian citizens. Social media platforms are important modern forums for discussion and freedom of expression, with Twitter being particularly important for Nigerians in terms of using the site for economic purposes. Additionally, there is little evidence to suggest that social media bans or internet shutdowns actually do anything to lessen domestic opposition within a country. In fact, according to reporting by The Washington Post, social media bans and Internet shutdowns as indiscriminative tools of repression are very difficult to sustain and are even likely to backfire.

It is clear that the government of Nigeria needs to rethink the ban of Twitter within its country’s borders. It seems that in some ways, this is already happening. The day after announcing the “indefinite suspension” of Twitter, government officials in Nigeria said that the ban was intended to be temporary. The country’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has recently backed off of prosecuting Nigerians who continued to use Twitter, instead saying that the directive given to prosecutors was intended to target people or groups helping Twitter to evade the ban.

Hopefully, in time, the ban will become looser and eventually be lifted by the government. Nigerian citizens should be able to use Twitter and other social media platforms freely for their social, economic, and personal reasons. A sustained ban of the site infringes on Nigerians’ civil liberties, freedom of expression, and economic activity, and it should not continue.

Tess Gellert