It is a fact; 40 million or 20% of the Nigerian population uses Twitter daily for news consumption, social interaction, advocacy, marketing, and others.
That is more than the entire population of neighboring Ghana, where Twitter took its African headquarters to earlier this year, citing the availability of “free speech, online freedom, and the open internet” in Ghana as the reason for choosing the gold coast country over Nigeria.
Since Nigeria recorded its index case of COVID-19 in February last year, Twitter had served as one of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control’s most used mediums for providing citizens with daily updates and data about the virus.
As the second most used microblogging site after Facebook (with 30 million users) in Africa’s most populous country, the NCDC also used the platform to give safety guidelines and push its vaccination campaign regularly.
However, following the ban on the operations of Twitter in Nigeria on June 5 by Nigeria’s President Buhari, the NCDC has lost, even if temporarily, the opportunity to keep nearly a fifth of the population informed about progress with the virus and further push for vaccine acceptance.
The ban came just a day after the microblogging site deleted a tweet by the president, in which he had threatened to use extreme force against youths from southeast Nigeria who are agitating for a breakaway state called Biafra.
“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,” the former military head of state had tweeted. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
He was referring to the 1967-1970 civil war between Nigeria and the people of its southeastern region, a tribe known as Igbos that sought to break away. More than two million Igbos died during the war, including women and children who died due to starvation as the Nigerian government blocked food, medical, and other support from entering the region.
Some Nigerians had reported the said tweet to Twitter, calling on the social media giant to suspend Buhari’s account on the basis that the president was threatening another genocide.
Twitter responded, not by suspending the account, but by deleting the tweet, stating that it violated its “Twitter Rule”.
The government had said the ban was because the medium was repeatedly being used for campaigns that threaten the country’s corporate existence. It is, however, believed that it was to revenge against Twitter, plus to stop citizens from tweeting about the many economic and security problems ravaging the country and the government’s human rights violations.
With only about 0.13% or 262,000 of the population (200 million people) fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the country needs to push its citizens harder to accept and take the vaccines through enlightenment programmes. There has been vaccine hesitancy here due to concerns over the safety of the vaccines, plus a belief that they are weaponized for population reduction.
Nigeria was therefore supposed to be using all available channels, including Twitter, to convince its population that the vaccines are safe. But being one of the NCDC’s best social media platforms for informing the public about COVID-19, the ban on Twitter could delay success against the virus and undermine efforts to curb its spread.
While some Nigerians still access Twitter using VPN or virtual private network, a technology that hides people’s identity when they surf the internet, NCDC and other government agencies have suspended their use of the platform for information dissemination. The NCDC’s last tweet (a COVID-19 update) was on June 4, a day before the ban.
Today, June 12, Nigeria has confirmed 167,051 infections, with 1,504 still active – after deducting 163,430 discharged and 2,117 others who have died. The ban denies active Twitter users the right to access daily information about the virus and new public measures to defeat it.
There are other adverse effects the ban has on Nigeria, however. These include the violation of citizens’ right to free speech and significant economic loss.
Estimates from Paradigm Initiative, a group working to connect young Africans with opportunities using ICT, show that Nigeria loses N2 billion ($6 million) every day that the ban stands. That is because the activities of some citizens who use the platform for marketing products and services, information exchange, and working and networking remotely amid COVID-19 are suspended. The ban could also scare potential investors who would have invested in the country’s technology industry.
As the rest of the world, including the US, UK, and Canada, join local activists and advocates trying to prevail on the government to have a rethink, Nigerians would welcome a speedy reversal of such total ban on the site that has millions of Nigerians relying on it for information on the pandemic.