“Questioning the morals, motives and actions of a nation-state is not an expression of hatred for that nation,”Stewart Stafford, author of The Vorbing.
In the early hours of Saturday, the 5th of June, 2021, Nigerians discovered that as threatened, our access to Twitter was cut. This was in the sequel to a threat made by the Nigerian government 3 days prior when Twitter took down a tweet of the current president, Muhammadu Buhari. The tweets, in subtlety, projected angst and promised chaos towards Nigerian youths, and a particular group of Nigerians. In its entirety, it seemed to be made with an intent to foster tribal wars and peer disparity.
Nigerian youths, saddened by both fear and anger in regards to the visceral nature of the tweet, took multiple turns reporting said tweet, making comments and quotes of how dirty things could get in the already crumbling nation that is Nigeria. The tweet, which played with words like “many of those misbehaving today” and “in the language they will understand,” was finally deleted by Twitter, which according to them, was against its safety measures and rules.
Expressing displeasure at the Nigerian youths for expressing our understandings of what it meant to have basic human rights––rights that we’ve over time seen unilaterally taken from us––the Nigerian government made a decision to ban our usage of the microblogging site. According to them, Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, was fostering hate and division. A very ironic take, I might add. This sheer show of force and power exposes how very well in their skin those who stand on the sits of power are, and how even when we try to echo our educational prowesses in regards to rights, still live and breathe under well-practised acts of power confiscation and utilitarianism.
Recall that this was not the first time the ruling Nigerian government had thought to ban access to social media. When Nigerians took to both digital and physical locations to fight against police brutality and the police unit, SARS, the government expressed disappointment, with a threat to pass a bill that adequately checks our presence online. Although Nigeria wouldn’t be the first African country to experience that, putting into view Zimbabwe, Uganda, Egypt, Cameroon, Mali, Togo, The Republic of Benin, amongst others, the bill is a faux attempt which poses as genuine, but with the intentions to forcibly take the fundamental human rights of Africans, especially when intertwined with corruption, discontent and dishonesty. “Corruption is a cancer; a cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy,” is a quote by current US president, Joe Biden, which totally puts things in perspective.
In a matter of days, Nigeria began to run at a loss — a loss apparently experienced only by middle and lower class working citizens. Paradigm Initiative, PIN, an NPO which connects young Africans to digital opportunities shared that in 24hrs of #TwitterBan, Nigeria has lost over N2,177,089,051 ($6,014,390). Netblock shares that for every hour, we lose N102.5 million ($250,600), bringing its impact to a daily loss of N2.5 billion. Three days after the Twitter ban in Nigeria, the A4AI (Alliance for Affordable Internet) put Nigeria’s economic loss at $1.2b. This is minus COVID-19’s impact on small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs), the e-commerce market in three days lost an estimated $12 billion.
In a bid to bite back and the sheer lack of empathy portrayed by those in power, we moved to VPNs. It’s allowed us the ability to once more, take control against the monstrous law intended at keeping online users in check. However, this victory might be short-lived. There have been reports of the government threatening to make arrests on anyone who tweets, or whose gadgets contained the microblogging platform, in the extrajudicial “stop and search.”
In the words of Mehmet Murat Ildan, “a nation which accepts to live a third-class life is just a third-class nation! If a nation wants to be called an honourable nation, it must use the option to refuse any kind of policy which is against human dignity! No refuse, no honour! If you don’t refuse a bad government, you deserve it all the way!”
Although we’ve managed to keep it together for the past 3 months, we cannot deny how cumbersome it is to perpetually manoeuvre hits from the Nigerian government. How long are we going to continue smiling in the face of defeat? As commendable as these moves are, and considering how explicitly frustrating it is to live here, to what end is the continued condone of bad rulership? How long are we going to watch literal authoritarianism unfold, at the detriment of helpless, harmless, law-abiding citizens?