Lagos, Nigeria – Emmanuel Alumona, a Lagos-based front programmer, realized early Saturday that he could not access Twitter on his phone.
The Nigerian government announced the day before Suspension of Twitter actions in the country indefinitely “for the persistent use of the platform that we are capable of disrupting Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
The suspension came two days after Africa’s largest social media giant, Mohamed Bouhari, deleted a tweet from his account for violating his rules.
“It simply came to our notice then [Twitter’s suspension] It was a joke, “said Alumona, 24, who now uses Twitter via VPN.
“I did not expect the government to go so low. Twitter is like my newspaper. Every time I want to check what’s going on in the country, I update my schedule. “Sadly, when I woke up on Saturday, my homepage was not loading,” Alumona told Al Jazeera.
The ban on Twitter, a platform that helped the ruling party win the 2015 presidential election, is part of the government’s plan to regulate social media.
In 2017, Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed accused social media of “sieging misinformation and false news.”
The National Information Council (NCI) was soon established to advise the creation of a council to regulate the use of social media.
– seekthelordfirst🇯🇲 (@MorrisBaker_) June 7, 2021
In 2019, the Minister of Information supported the anti-social media bill “Protection from Internet Fraud and Manipulation”, which is sponsored by the senator of the ruling APC party Mohamed Sani Musa.
The government also ordered Internet services, including WhatsApp, Zoom, Netflix, Skype, to obtain a license from the National Broadcasting Commission before operating in the country.
“It is clear that the registration is a pretext for settlement,” said Joachim McEbong, senior analyst at Lagos-based SBM Intelligence Policy Risk Analysis. told Al Jazeera.
“They show that they are ready to press for democratic freedom. The next two years will be difficult. “
In 2015, President Buhari, who imprisoned hundreds of people after taking power in the 1983 coup, used social media as part of a campaign strategy that portrayed him as a “converted democrat” during his fourth term as president.
Another coup overthrew Buhari in 1985, before he was elected president in 2015.
Analysts say the Buhari administration is reminiscent of its 1984 military regime. He enacted draconian legislation that allowed the government to imprison any journalist or civil society member found guilty of “disgracing” the country’s military leader.
During his administration, several journalists were imprisoned or charged with treason.
In 2021, Nigeria was ranked 120th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.
Nigeria has been cited as one of the few African countries to invest in its technology ecosystem, but it recently avoided it when Twitter chose neighboring Ghana as its first African headquarters.
About 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, more than the entire 32 million population of Ghana.
Twitter’s decision to choose Ghana to replace Nigeria was evident in a statement that described Ghana as “a champion of democracy, a proponent of free speech, and the freedom of the Internet and an open Internet.”
“Less than two months after Twitter opened its headquarters in Ghana, they have been proven to be right,” MacEbong said.
“This ban will deter investors. “Global technology companies looking to have a presence in Africa are more likely to see a place like Ghana, not Nigeria.”
Paradigm Initiative, an African-American social enterprise working on digital inclusion rights, CEO Gbenga Sesan agrees.
He says the suspension of Twitter sends the wrong signal to foreign investors, adding that in Nigeria, small businesses using Twitter as a source of livelihood will be affected.
“Nigerian businesses use digital media to reach customers, identify their brands, and reach out to a variety of stakeholders. “It will definitely affect this irregular decision,” Cesan told Al Jazeera.
After the suspension of Twitter, users in the country, through VPNs, flooded the platform to express their anger and frustration.
The Office of the Attorney General of Nigeria has ordered the immediate prosecution of Nigerians who are trying to circumvent the government’s Twitter ban, the government to stop its activities.
Late Saturday evening, the diplomatic missions of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement condemning the Nigerian government’s decision.
Returning to Lagos, Alumona joined other Nigerians in tweeting via his VPN using the hashtag #KeepitOn.
Despite using a VPN, Alumona is scared.
He said: “As the situation is going on, I am scared as a Nigerian because we do not know what to expect.”
“This will affect the ability to stand up for the truth and hold the government accountable.”