It all started with killings that have been taking place in southeastern Nigeria, with separatists killing, injuring and maiming people. Tired of the senseless chaos, an angry president Muhammadu Buhari took to Twitter where he threatened a major crackdown on the insurrectionists and those attacking police stations as well as the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) like Nigerian soldiers treated the rebels during the civil war.

President Buhari

“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” he said.

Those few words set in motion a chronology of events starting with Twitter taking down the post, terming it “concerning.” This elicited protests and praise from various quarters depending on which divide of the emerging issue the tweeps were.

Among those protesting were Information Minister Lai Mohammed who said the social media giant’s actions are “suspect” because the nation’s president has the right to express “dismay and anger” about recent attacks targeting security agents in southeastern Nigeria.

On 4th June 2021, Nigeria would go on to announce its suspension of Twitter (on Twitter) operations saying that the app can be used as platform for activities capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.

All telecommunication companies working in Nigeria among them MTN, Airtel, GLO etc complied

“ALTON (Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria) has also conducted a robust assessment of the request in accordance with internationally accepted principles. Based on national interest provisions in the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, and within the licence terms under which the industry operates; our members have acted in compliance with the directives of NCC. We will continue to engage all relevant authorities and stakeholders and will act as may be further directed by the NCC,” said ALTON President, Gbenga Adebayo in a statement

Twitter now illegal

Before the ink could dry on the suspension order, Nigeria officially made it illegal to use the microblogging app.

A statement from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN has now directed for the immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.

“Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) at the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria,” read part of the statement

He also directed the DPPF to liase with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication Communication (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.

As expected, such a move attracted protests with the United States being among those that have weighed in terming the move as undermining the fundamental freedoms of Nigerians and sends a poor message to citizens, investors and businesses.

Statement by the US government on Twitter ban

Internet Freedoms lobby group Paradigm Initiative also added its voice to the matter saying that so far, Nigeria’s President has notably been insulated from every form of public accountability; he is perhaps the only president since the country’s return to democracy in 1999 who never grants live interviews or holds media chats. This move is therefore aimed at making him unaccountable to the people of Nigeria who constantly take to social media platforms to share their views on the actions and policies of the government.

“We will further contact the Ministry of Information to get exact details of this announcement, and the legal framework that supports such undemocratic pronouncement. We advise all users of twitter and other social media platforms in Nigeria to download virtual private networks (VPNs) to enable them continue to use the platforms for their economic survival and social and political engagements while we all push back on this draconian order by the Nigerian government,” read an excerpt of the statement.

Economical implications

According to Nigerian Scholar Dr. Ndubuisi Ekekwe, unlike in the industrial world where entities saw all relationships with governments from the balance sheets angle, modern companies like Twitter and Facebook see things differently.

Why? The raw materials are the users because those users provide the critical factor of production which is now used to produce the final products. For any tweet on Twitter, a user is adding in the production system, feeding Twitter algorithms, to engage everyone. Anything that can break that supply chain, from the angle of the platforms, must be immediately managed.

Dr. Ndubuisi Ekekwe

“If Nigeria thinks that it could inflict financial harm on Twitter, it must recalibrate. My estimate is that former US President Donald Trump possibly had more followers than 95% of accounts in Nigeria combined, before Twitter suspended him with close to 90 million followers. Largely, if Twitter had been overly concerned about the financial impacts, it would not have done that, as Trump was a rainmaker for the company,” said Ekewe who is also the Chairman of FASMICRO Group and contributor at the Harvard Business Review.

“It comes down to a virtuoso circle of network effects with its accelerating returns, generating a positive loop that keeping many users will favor a platform rather than pandering to bullies who will scare everyone. This differs from the industrial age firms where governments control access to the raw materials (crude oil deposits). They will fold to politicians!” he added

Twitter runs a business model called Aggregation and it is the most potent business model in the world. Most of the top leading technology companies in the world have an element of it. And platform policy is at the heart of the playbook. Under the aggregation construct, the companies that control the value are not usually the ones that created them.

The directive by the Nigerian government is at its core, an abuse of the rights of Nigerians not just to freedom of expression, but many other rights guaranteed in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This suspension, which is a reaction of the Nigerian government to the company’s enforcement of its platform rules, is aimed at insulating the government from criticism, especially by Nigeria’s youth who are over 70% of the country’s population.

Buhari and zuckerberg at a past event

Facebook has since followed suit but Ekewe opines that Buhari cannot ban the social media giant because Facebook is Instagram, and WhatsApp as well;  many Nigerian companies live on those platforms and the government knows that.