Many reasons are adduced for Nigeria’s underdevelopment. Among them, sadly, is the allegation that Nigerians have failed to develop consensus on national issues.
It is said, maybe rightly so, that Nigerians, especially the elite and politicians, often tend to be selfish and put their personal interests far ahead of national interests while they quickly recoil to their ethnic and religious cocoons, when they lose out, to view and interpret government’s policies, actions and programmes.
Others say that Nigeria remains underdeveloped because many people attach significance to insignificant issues and fail to regard important matters such as the pervading insecurity and economic downturn. In fact, this is the trend that is currently playing out.
President Muhammadu Buhari, recently, issued a stern warning to those bent on destroying the country through promoting insurrection and burning down critical national assets.
The president spoke during his meeting with Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, where he was briefed on the series of attacks on facilities of the electoral body in the country.
“I receive daily security reports on the attacks, and it is very clear that those behind them want this administration to fail,” he said. “Insecurity in Nigeria is now mentioned all over the world. All the people who want power, whoever they are, you wonder what they really want. Whoever wants the destruction of the system will soon have the shock of their lives. We’ve given them enough time.”
The President recalled that he visited all the 36 states of the country before the 2019 election, “and majority of the people believed me, and the election proved it.” He promised to continue leading the country in accordance with Constitutional provisions.
Instructively, he said that those responsible for arson across the country were either too young or unborn to know the travails and loss of lives that attended the Nigerian Civil War.
“Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war,” he said, “will treat them in the language they understand, we are going to be very hard sooner than later.”
Unfortunately, rather than the country coming together to rally round the President and his government to fight arsonists, protect national assets and, importantly, fight against insecurity, the people, especially elite and politicians, took to the press to criticise him for what they term his hard and biased expression.
Wrongly, many people, especially from the southern part of the country, were angry on social media over the tone of the language used by the President, which they alledged was stronger than he had used in his condemnation of acts of banditry or attacks carried out by Boko Haram militants in the north.
Even worse, a social media platform, Twitter, deleted the President’s tweet. Twitter removed a post made by the President, claiming that it violated its rules. In reference to the 1967 to 1970 Nigerian Civil War, the President said in effect that those misbehaving today will be treated in the language they will understand.
The tweet, posted on Tuesday, reads: “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.”
Although many people support Twitter’s action, apparently, in doing so they forgot that President’s statements were made on the backdrop of a recent spate of attacks on national assets mainly in the south-east, which the government holds the regional secessionists, IPOB and ESN, responsible.Rightly, however, the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, called Twitter’s move unfair, labelling it “double standards.”
A Twitter spokesperson said the post “was in violation of the Twitter Rules. The account owner will be required to delete the violative Tweet and spend 12 hours with their account in read-only mode.” The statement gave no further details.
Instructively, the President made no mention of any particular group in his tweet but, it is commonly known that the government accuses IPOB of attacks, including arson, on electoral offices and police stations in the south-east in recent weeks.
Mr Lai Mohammed said that “Twitter may have its own rules, it’s not the universal rule, and if the president felt concerned about a situation, he is free to express such views.”
He said that Twitter had not banned incitement tweets from other groups. And, to be honest, the Twitter has a long and detailed list of material that should have not been used in tweets in Nigeria, including abusive and incitement tweets from notably the leader of IPOB, Mr Nnamdi Kanu.
Lai Mohammed said that Twitter was suspended because it provided a platform for those that are threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria.The minister said that the owner of Twitter helped to fund the recent #EndSARS protest and allowed Nnamdi Kanu to use the platform to call for the killing of policemen.
He said that Twitter failed to take down Kanu’s tweets, despite repeated requests made to it do so by the Nigerian government.
However, one could argue that Nigeria ought to have protested long ago, openly and vigorously, against those tweets or ban Tweeter, but it unwisely waited until the President’s tweet was deleted to act. Still, while this observation could be right, there is no limit or period of doing the right thing or righting wrong.
After all, we must have a safe and secure Nigeria before Twitter and or any social media can operate. In fact, to guarantee security of their country, before Nigeria, many others in Africa have restricted the use of social media.
In Africa, at least 30 countries have reportedly blocked or heavily restricted social media access since 2015 and, with its latest ban on Twitter, Nigeria is said to be 66th country in the world to restrict social media access in the last six years.
A study conducted by the privacy protection company, Surfshark, revealed that in Africa, most internet censorship and social media restriction cases have to do with riots, protests, elections, and other events of a political nature. About 16 of the 30 cases recorded were election-related and seven were due to protests.
In 2021 alone, there have been, at least, eight political cases of internet disruption across the world including in Nigeria, Uganda, Russia, Myanmar, Senegal, Chad, the Republic of Congo, and Bangladesh.
“Social media has established itself as a key political player of its own. However, as its influence grows, so does the governments’ desire to censor it by introducing new laws, restricting access, or blocking social media altogether,” said Gabrielle Racaityte-Racai, communications manager at Surfshark.
However, it is gladdening to know that the process to lift the ban on Twitter is in place, considering the socio-economic importance of social media to Nigeria.
The government, this week, said that the management of Twitter has reached out to it for a discussion on how to resolve the issue that led to the suspension of its activities in Nigeria.
Lai Mohammed said this while briefing State House correspondents at the end of the weekly FEC meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, the minister listed some conditions that must be met by the Twitter and other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, before the suspension of Tweeter can be lifted. These conditions, he said, include the platforms getting registered in the country.
However, given the global aspect of the internet and social media platforms, it is appropriate for Nigeria to champion fight for a harmonised international regulatory response enforceable in domestic courts.
Social media platforms have significant economic power and a transnational user base. They play a significant role in politics and influence culture through the spread of information and ideas. Therefore, it is appropriate to respond to the dangers it poses through an international mechanism.
An international response will prevent unbalanced individualist responses.
The international response is also a good way to guarantee fundamental rights alongside legitimate restrictions. It could ensure universal access to information and potentially reduce problems associated with platform manipulation.