Twitter: N104.02m loss as minority Reps kick after FG lifts ban

Sighs of relief, one would say, as the federal government, last week, announced lift on the ban it slammed on the Twitter platform, over removing President Muhammadu Buhari’s handle. JOSHUA EGBODO reviews reaction of the opposition caucus in the House of Reps, amidst information of the huge economic losses occasioned by the ban on Twitter.

The issues

In the wake of repeated violent attacks across some states in the south-east geopolitical zone of the country, many of such, linked to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), President Muhammadu Buhari on his handle issued what many citizens saw as subtle threat, making allusion to fate of people the who lost their lives during the Nigerian civil war, as he concluded the post with the possibility of his government dealing with IPOB members “in the language they understand”.

Following series of viral online protests over the comment, Twitter came hard on President Buhari by deleting his verified handle on the platform, pointing out that his comment offended certain aspects of its user policies. It opened its remark on the reason why the handle was being taken down with the line; “We don’t care to know who you are, or which country you govern….”, statement many believed got the federal government of Nigeria provoked, and demeaning of a sovereign country’s leader.

The ban

Nigerians were to be shocked on June 4 last year, by the news that the federal government had indefinitely suspended Twitter operations in Nigeria. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed announced the suspension in a statement, pointing out that there have been persistent use of the platform for activities that were capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.

Mohammed also stated that the Nigerian government had directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all social media operations in Nigeria, in the aftermath of the development.

Views on action

Expectedly, when the ban was made public, there were divergent views by the citizens and experts in the social media field on the propriety or otherwise of the decision. Different perspectives were presented, depending on which angle the opinion offerers came from.

Many analysts saw the straightaway indefinite suspension as rather draconian, as to them, the government should have opted for a call for retraction of the offensive line in the blogger’s statement before taking down President Buhari’s handle, as well as an unreserved apology to Nigeria and Nigerians over its use of bad language.

Reps’ intervention

By way of resolution on the matter, the House of Representatives was later to direct its relevant committees to jointly interface with the Minister of Information, Culture and National Orientation and other stakeholders, with a view to determining whether the action should be sustained or reversed.

Action justified

The Federal Government of Nigeria at the engagement insisted that its suspension of Twitter will be in force until the organisation is registered in Nigeria, as well as obtain license to operate in the country. Lai Mohammed who made the government position known before the joint Committee on Information, Justice and Communication, also vowed to sanction any other social media platform, if they are found wanting in similar manner.

“The suspension was because Twitter has made its platform a choice for people who want to destabilise Nigeria. We want Twitter to be registered first in the country before they can operate”, he said.

He also denied the widely held opinion that the move was intended to gag free speech. “There was no intention of the federal government to stifle free speech in the country. The only reason we suspended Twitter is because it was promoting disunity. Its activities are inimical to the unity of the country”, he told the panel.

According to the minister, the government “discovered 476 online platforms devoted to bringing down this country (Nigeria). They are always faster than us (government), so the only way out is to regulate them”, adding that efforts of the government at that time to have an engagement with the microblogger’s representatives on the way forward were being snubbed.

Led by Hon. Odebunmi Dokun who at the close of the session noted that it was an investigating hearing, after which the report will be presented to the larger house, surprisingly to many, the said report of the joint committee never got attention the House before it proceeded on its Yuletide break.

Ban lifted Seven months after, the seeming relief in the opinion of many came last Thursday, when it was announced that the federal government had lifted suspension on the micro-blogging site.

The decision was made public by the Chairman Technical Committee, Nigeria-Twitter Engagement, and Director-General National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi through a statement to that effect.

“The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) directs me to inform the public that President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, has approved the lifting of the suspension of Twitter operation in Nigeria effective from 12am tonight, 13th January 2022. The approval was given following a memo written to the President by the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Ali Ibrahim”, he said.

Economic losses

With the 222 days of suspension, experts have put the economic losses occasioned by the government action at about N546.5 billion to the country. 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.

Minority Reps kick

While many Nigerians greeted lifting of the ban with jubilation, Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives, however, insisted that the federal government had no right to have banned the platform in the first place. The caucus in a statement through its leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu last Friday described the declaration by the government “of having lifted its unconstitutional ban on use of Twitter in Nigeria as further demonstration of its appetite to suppress constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens in Nigeria”.

It held that freedom of speech and opinion by Nigerians, including doing so through the social media tools like Twitter, were clearly guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and cannot be subjected to partisan approval or regulation under a democratic rule, recalling how it had condemned the move earlier in June last year, as being “provocative, obnoxious and unjustifiable clampdown on the rights of Nigerians…”

It stated further; “Our caucus holds that the declaration of a lift on the ban on Twitter amounts to regulatory approval on freedom of speech, which is completely unknown to our laws. The APC government should rather be apologising to Nigerians for infringing on their rights as well as for the huge economic losses recorded as a result of the ban.

“The Minority Caucus insists that instead of seeking to suppress free speech in our country, the APC government should be open to the views of Nigerians and make adjustments for the good of the nation.

“Our Caucus commends Nigerians for their resilience, innovations and resistance to suppression by the APC government and assures that the caucus will never relent in fighting for the rights of the people at all times”.

Right or wrong?

The latest move of the government has again thrown up a debate on whether it should have taken the step at all, considering the economic implications. There were also arguments on image perception of the current government, and the country as a whole. However, the debate pendulum swings, Nigerians are back on the platform with enthusiasm.