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Nigeria Blocked Twitter Over Political Resentment

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Nigeria has been blocking Twitter for a week. Yet, Twitter had just opened offices in West Africa to better reach this market. The government decision comes after months of political resentment against the platform.

On June 2, Nigerian President Buhari saw one of his tweets deleted for violation of the platform’s regulations.

It referred to the Nigerian Civil war between 1967 and 1970, during which Biafra declared its independence. As the claim still exists, he warned to treat “those misbehaving today” in “the language they will understand“. Between 500,000 and 2 million Biafrans died of starvation during the conflict, which Biafra calls a genocide.

The Presidency also criticized Twitter for not deleting right away the tweets of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, the secessionist movement for the independence of Biafra nowadays. Their leader called for killing the police.

On June 4, the Information Ministry announced that Twitter was suspended in the country because the micro-blogging site hosts “activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence“.

The government threatened to arrest and prosecute anyone using Twitter in the country. Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed told the BBC: “The attorney general has made it clear that if anybody violates the regulation, that such a person will be prosecuted“.

Most Nigeria-based businesses stopped tweeting. Individuals use Virtual Private Networks to tweet. But the deleted tweets are only a justification marking the climax of older grievances of the government against the platform.

Nigerian protesters for #EndSARS in Lagos, Nigeria
Nigerian protesters for #EndSARS in October 2020 in Lagos, Nigeria

The influence of Twitter in the #End SARS movement

In October 14, 2020, the C.E.O. of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, tweeted “Donate via #Bitcoin to help #EndSARS“. Several international celebrities such as Rihanna also tweeted against police violence in Nigeria with the hashtag #EndSARS. With the 4th most influential account on the platform, she also relayed the Internet suspension during the farmers’ protests in India. Nigerian diaspora mobilized for ending SARS. Google Africa also supported the End SARS protests, on its twitter handle.

End SARS is a social movement against police brutality in Nigeria. SARS was a Nigerian special task force known for its brutality and misconducts. In 2017, bad experiences about SARS actions started to spread out on Twitter in 2017. In October 2020, a video shared on Twitter showed SARS shooting a young Nigerian. Along with other images, it erupted into an international public online and offline outcry. After days of protests in Nigeria, SARS was dissolved on October 11. Dorsey’s tweet came after the dissolution. Demonstrations continued for a dozen of days and reportedly saw the Nigerian Army shooting and killing protesters, notably during a raid at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos.

For the President, Twitter helped funding and nurturing the protests. Ghana and Nigeria were yet identified by Twitter as their primary markets in West Africa.

Nigeria, a key market for Twitter

In April 2021, Twitter expanded its presence in Africa with its first office in Ghana. They wanted to pilot the new approach of building an in-market team to adapt to African markets. “Teams must be more immersed in the rich and vibrant communities that drive the conversations taking place every day across Africa“, the statement said.

The decision created a small controversy in Nigeria. The most populous state in Africa counts 73% of internet users while the Ghanaian neighbour has only 43% of its population active on the Internet. But Twitter justified the choice of Ghana because it was “a champion of democracy“, when Nigeria is 110th in the Global democracy index.

Nigerian officials said Twitter needed to register in the country before the government lift the suspension. Facebook or Instagram also need to register, although these social media platforms continue to be active. Unlike Twitter, Facebook has invested in Nigeria.

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