From Olu Fasan
The Nigerian Minister for Information and Culture, LAI Mohammed, recently struck triumphalistically when he announced that the federal government would soon lift its Twitter ban because the social media platform had agreed to strict state controls. This contradicts the popular belief that governments avoid taming the market because of the disciplining forces of globalization. But the Nigerian government takes up Twitter and believes it will win. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory that will cost Nigeria a huge amount.
Before we get to that, let’s remember how such a result came about. It should be remembered that few governments in the world used Twitter more often than the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
During the 2019 presidential election, Twitter was the platform that was used ad nauseam for Buhari’s second term campaign propaganda: his media team inundated millions of people with tweets and retweets about the “infrastructure revolution” and other “successes” of his government. The truth is, Buhari and his government loved Twitter!
But later it went wrong. Initially, the federal government blamed Twitter for fueling the #EndSARS protests. Then Twitter decided to set up its Africa headquarters in Ghana. This decision really angered the Buhari government, which believed Nigeria was the legal location for the headquarters. After all, Nigeria puts Ghana in the shade, both in terms of population and the number of Twitter users. But Twitter said it chose Ghana because it is “an advocate for democracy, a supporter of free speech, online freedom and the open internet”. This rightly indicated that Nigeria lacked these attributes.
The final straw was Twitter’s decision on June 2 to delete President Buhari’s tweet. Buhari conjured up the specter of the Nigeria-Biafra war and threatened separatist agitators in the southeast with the alarming words: “We will treat them in the language they understand”. Twitter said the post violated its “Abusive Conduct” policy and removed it. Buhari’s helpers glowed with anger; On June 5, the government banned Twitter from operating in Nigeria.
The ban provoked global condemnation. The US and the EU condemned this in a joint statement; many other countries, including the UK, Canada and Sweden, criticized the thin-skinned behavior of the Buhari government. Of course, the ban was completely irrational, as it was not only an attack on freedom of expression, but also undermined the economic well-being of Nigerians and the country as a whole.
The polling institute NOI Polls estimates that around 39.6 million Nigerians use Twitter, 20 percent of them for business advertising and 18 percent for job search. Other estimates showed that the Twitter ban would immediately save Nigeria $ 6 billion.
Of course, Twitter is also widely used by academics and students to promote and follow research, as well as by the mainstream media to spread the word. Certainly, only an anti-intellectual government that belittles education and the diffusion of ideas would ban the use of Twitter. Unfortunately the Buhari government did it!
Since the ban, the federal government has been negotiating with Twitter about the conditions for a lifting. And on August 12, the Minister of Information announced the alleged outcome of the negotiations. After a federal board meeting, the minister told journalists that the federal government would soon lift the Twitter ban because the social media giant had agreed to comply with the conditions imposed on it. Twitter did not confirm its approval of any conditions other than that it was in talks with the government and “looks forward to the restoration of our services soon.”
But the terms, if they worked, would subject Twitter to tight government controls. For example, Twitter must: register as a company in Nigeria, with a Nigerian office and with a management team member; register with relevant regulatory agencies such as the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC; and agree to a charter of online conduct for content management that allows the government to decide which content is acceptable and which is not! This is a sheet straight out of the draconian media bills!
The government relies on provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act of 2020, which require that foreign companies wishing to “do business in Nigeria” be incorporated in that country. But Twitter is an open service; Although it serves the whole world, it only has about 35 offices worldwide.
Under the Electronic Commerce Agreement, which is currently being negotiated with the World Trade Organization, e-commerce companies can transmit products and services digitally or electronically to a country without being registered there. It is inconceivable that CAMA 2020 could go so backwards that foreign online or digital companies that electronically deliver services to Nigeria would be treated as “doing business in Nigeria” for purposes of incorporation under Section 78 of the Act.
If Twitter hadn’t “insulted” Buhari by deleting his offensive tweet, the federal government would not have asked to integrate him into Nigeria. In fact, after Twitter chose Ghana as its Africa headquarters, the Minister of Information only regretted the decision, adding, “I think Twitter has the prerogative and exclusive right to have its headquarters”. At no point has any provision of CAMA 2020 been invoked or the need for Twitter to meet any of the mentioned operating conditions has been invoked. The federal government’s requirements for lifting the Twitter ban are therefore a retrospective consideration and a punitive measure.
But in a globalized world, it is self-destructive for an economically fragile country like Nigeria to be hostile to global corporate giants like Twitter; this signals to foreign investors that the country is not open for business. Let’s face it, the world is avoiding Nigeria; it doesn’t make its way to Nigeria’s door!
Last week, a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, showed that Nigeria received just $ 3 billion of the $ 75 billion in FDI that came to Africa between 2015 and 2019. That’s only four percent! The same report says that FDI flows to Nigeria decreased 48.5 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. Nigeria simply repels foreign investors.
But why? Well, Nigeria has a bad investment climate and image. Unfortunately, the government’s clumsy treatment of Twitter will inevitably make both of these worse.