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#TwitterBan is social media regulation through the backdoor – SBM Intelligence

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Nigeria’s geopolitical intelligence platform, SBM Intelligence says the ongoing suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria by the Federal Government is ill-advised and serves as a sinister plot of the government to enforce social media regulations through the backdoor. 

SBM claims this in a Monday report titled ‘Through the back door: Nigeria’s Twitter ban and the regulation of social media by other means’.  

“There are general concerns with allowing this Twitter ban to stay indefinitely. On a wider scale, it could be a leeway for the government to expand the ban to not just other social media platforms but to shutting down the entire cyber space,” it said.  

The Federal Government had on Saturday morning, effected the Twitter ban after it was triggered that the micro-blogging site deleted a controversial tweet by the President Muhammadu Buhari. 

The tweet referenced the Biafran war of 1967-1970 that led to loss of millions of lives.  

“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,” Mr Buhari said in a tweet that stirred outrage and was widely reported by Nigerians on social media. 

However, the SBM, in its expose of the current suspension of the Twitter operations argued that Nigeria stands to lose more than it gains with the ongoing enforcement and the mooted internet shutdown would cost more than two arms and a leg in resources – $134 million (N51.1 billion) per day. 

Lai Mohammed’s romance with regulation 

The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed was tasked with making the announcement of the ban. For many who have followed the minister’s lust for social media regulation, making the announcement would have been a big moment in his ministerial career.  

The SBM report outlined moments where the Minister had made calls for a social media regulation since 2015 without any success.  

“In February 2017, Lai Mohammed started ringing the alarm about Nigeria being under what he called ‘the siege of disinformation and fake news’, and laid the blame squarely on social media for the spread of this disinformation and fake news,” the report said.  

“This was quickly followed by a recommendation of the National Council on Information (NCI) headed by the minister and made up of federal and state-level policymakers on information.

“Since then, Mr Mohammed has continued to decry the spread of hate speech and fake news, and called for the regulation of social media, including expressing his support for two bills before the Senate on regulating social media and curbing hate speech.”

The legality of the Twitter ban

A lot of questions have trailed the suspension of Twitter activities but a core question that the government has shied away from providing clear answers is the legality of the ban. 

For an action to be made a crime, it has to be backed by any known law, policy, regulation

or administrative directive (which requires the approval of the Federal Executive Council) or an Executive Order from the President. 

Apart from the directive being a statement of an administrative minister, the Federal Government did not make an effort to go through the right channel before criminalising tweeting for both individuals and corporates. 

“In the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Maideribe vs Federal Government, the then CJN Mahmud Mohammed in his lead judgement also leaned on Section 36(8), which says: “No person shall be held to be guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for

any criminal offence heavier than the penalty in force at the time the offence was committed”.

The economics of the Twitter ban

Twitter as a social medium has transcended the purview of just human to human engagements and has become a critical commercial convergence for Small Scale and Medium Scale businesses. It has become a place where many businesses come to promote their goods and services and take orders.

Hence, while Twitter is taking a blow from reduced patronage, millions of Nigerians are taking the heat and wondering how long their business can hold on to with reduced access to their commercial centre. 

According to Paradigm Initiative a digital advocacy organisation, for every hour Nigerians are denied access to Twitter, Nigeria loses an estimated $250,600 that is about N103,385,030 per hour and an estimated  $2.18bn daily

“Exactly 24 hours ago, the government of Nigeria announced the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria. Since then, the country has lost N2,177,089,051 ($6,014,390) based on the cost of Shutdown Tool. The loss continues at a rate of N90,712,044 ($250,600) every hour,” it said on Saturday.

According to a tool by Netblocks that measures the impact of total or partial internet shutdowns for many countries, the cost of this Twitter ban is over $6 million (N2.4 billion) every single

day. 

These are huge cost to bear in a thriving economy but when one considers Nigeria is in a dire stage and still yet to recover from an economy ravaged by COVID-19 and one struggling under the weight of low growth, high inflation and high unemployment, that is a level of economic activity the country simply cannot afford to lose.

Another enormous challenge outlined in the report is how the wrong message it sends to investors. 

“There are also the problems it poses for additional investment into the country. Interestingly, we have already seen the first example of this with Twitter deciding to set up shop in Ghana instead of Nigeria. That move generated widespread debate in mid-April of this year when it was announced. In its statement, Twitter stated that Ghana is “a champion for democracy, a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet”.

“It is disheartening that the company has been proven right not quite two months later.

As a result, the jobs and investment that would typically follow the establishment of such a presence in Nigeria, has been lost.

“Moreover, other global tech companies who want to establish or deepen their presence in Africa are now more likely to look to Ghana rather than Nigeria.”

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