Nigeria’s government is doubling down on its decision to ban Twitter indefinitely, with regulators Monday ordering broadcasters to quit using Twitter even to collect news, and the foreign minister summoning Western ambassadors whose nations criticized the ban.
Why it matters: Twitter has been a potent tool for younger Nigerians to mobilize, including during the massive #EndSARS protests last year against police brutality. The ban might have economic consequences for Africa’s most populous country, which has a burgeoning tech industry, and it sends an ominous signal regarding the nation’s democracy.
How it happened: The ban was announced a day after Twitter deleted a tweet in which President Muhammadu Buhari threatened a secessionist movement in southeastern Nigeria and appeared to allude to the civil war (1967–1970) in which Buhari functioned as a military commander.
- In announcing the ban, the government called Twitter a source of corruption and also a threat to Nigeria’s stability, while imagining that rebel leaders were permitted to converse incendiary things without facing such censorship.
- Misinformation and incitement to violence on social media are real problems in Nigeria, says Zainab Usman, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Africa program, but the government’s rationale was highly”cynical.”
- “This ban reinforces perceptions that the government is not very tolerant of criticism and that it is more preoccupied with its own survival than handling the serious issues of violent crime and insecurity across many parts of Nigeria,” Usman says.
The backstory: Buhari is a former military ruler who returned as a democrat and is now halfway through his second and last term.
- “He’s never been able to shake a general’s intolerance for dissent,” says Judd Devermont, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and he currently leads”a country under siege.”
- “In every one of its six geographic zones, there is conflict and criminality or secessionist movements,” states Devermont.
- Under intense pressure because of its handling of the security scenario, Buhari’s government has been cracking down on journalists and civil society activists, Devermont says.
- “I’m deeply worried about Nigeria’s democracy,” he continues. 1 key test will be whether the National Assembly employs any pressure on Buhari within the ban that week.
Between the lines: The ban also exposes a vast gulf between Nigeria’s young and increasingly tech-savvy population and its aging political elites.
- Tweeting is now a crime, and also the attorney general is calling for prosecutions. However, Nigerians are flocking to virtual private networks, and many are continuing to converse.
- There could be additional restrictions c