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Mr. President, Twitter is still Banned

Dear President Buhari

Media reports show that in the last few weeks and days you have been receiving some important messages and visits about the 2023 elections. Some about your party’s convention and others about ambitions and intentions to run for office. Besides, being head of government of the country, these visits formally and practically place you as the maximum leader of your party for anyone with doubts, these messages and visits also remind even you of your inescapable position, in case you were planning to act or appear otherwise. I suspect this is a new level for you since prior to now there was no reason for anyone to come to inform you of their intention to run for president and to announce to the whole world right after seeing you that they have informed you of their intention. To each his own.

The content of this epistle is simpler than those messages and visits. It is just to remind you that “Twitter” which is arguably one of the top three most popular microblogging sites in the world is still suspended from operating in Nigeria and Nigerians are still banned from using it.

This reminder is coming to you more than 100 days after without anyone probing you, in a prepared speech, you voluntarily and directly made a statement in which you explained in your view the issues and reasons for suspending Twitter and that you had constituted a Presidential Committee to engage Twitter to explore the possibility of resolving issues that led to the suspension. In that same speech, you also reassured us that following the extensive engagements, the issues are being addressed and you have directed that the suspension be lifted but once the conditions are met to allow our citizens to continue the use of the platform for business and positive engagements.

The statement was made on the 1st of October 2021, in evaluating your Independence Day national broadcast as citizens and analysts, many of us were relieved and even delighted that from your speech you seem to at least recognise the fact that the platform called Twitter also serves for notable business and positive engagements. I have some information for you, and you must however be told full truth Mr President: Some of us had doubts about how deep and extensive your understanding and appreciation of the situation was. Some even argued that you don’t really care about and that in reality you just tolerated things like Twitter.

Sceptics of your statement brought forward two major points to make their case against you.

One point raised is that by the time you were making your promise to lift the suspension on Twitter the platform had been banned for almost 100 days. It was argued that leaving Twitter suspended for such a long period is an indication that those managing the Nigerian system, starting from the President, had little understanding and care for the digital and information era in which we live. The approach smacked of an analogue mentality of uninspiring memo writing bureaucrats that is at odds with signs of the time where events happen and decisions are taken in real-time.

The second point raised against you was around why the government should suspend it at all in the first place.

Twitter is just one organization, but its users are more. They are in millions. Due to its format and some other factors, analyst agree that twitter is arguably one of the most sophisticated social media handles out there. Though easily open to all and thus used by all sorts of characters, Twitter users are generally more educated and more informed than the average population. They use the platform to seek information and validation, interact with similar and higher minds, sell and buy, love, learn and laugh. With a click of a button, thousands sometimes millions are reached and engaged on issues that range from the absurd to the intense, on Twitter lives have been saved, jobs created and found, careers made and institutions corrected.

To think that with all these offerings for a country wherein the government for various reasons struggles to provide an environment with basic amenities capable of fostering hope not to mention opportunities, that same government can have the audacity to ban such platform beats common sense and logic.

Let us assume and believe the government’s words that the Twitter ban was neither a petty act of vengeance nor an attempt to gag an increasingly disenchanted and exasperated public, but an act to regularize and earn revenue from a profit-making organization. Seen through the prism of the Twitter ban, it will appear Nigeria of today is a country wherein the government in a decree like the style of the bad old military days bans and then explains why later. It disrupts and then asks for order.

Those time tested basic democratic and libertarian concepts and processes of dialogue, warning, negotiations, court orders, and general care that government accord private entities as a symbol of respect for liberty and innovation in progressive and prosperous societies seem not to matter here.

After your 1st of October statement about Twitter, many of us resorted to consolation from the truism “better late than ever” and it was hoped that now that the President seems to get it and that he has come out to assure the whole world that he understands that Twitter is a platform for business and positive engagements thigs will move quickly. Such hope was based on the assumption that those charged with dealing with the issues hindering the reactivation of Twitter will speed things up as a form of respect to their commander. It was also hoped that the president himself or someone for him will be breathing down the neck of negotiators urging them to be flexible, swift and result oriented.

Mr. President, 100 days after your statement Twitter is still banned and that is not good. It shows you as slow and very analogue in your ways. In the meantime, many Nigerians have stopped waiting for you. They have simply found an alternative; they have moved on to the virtual private network (VPN) and by so doing bypassing the authority of a system that does not get it and seems to not care about their needs.

Anthony Kila is Centre Director at CIAPS Lagos.

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