Spaces for Change (S4C) has welcomed the resumption of Twitter activities in Nigeria 222 days after it was banned by the Federal Government of Nigeria, citing threats to national security and social cohesion.
Twitter, the social media microblogging platform was shut down on June 5, 2021, by the federal government after Twitter deleted an inappropriate tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari.
S4C began in May 2011 as an online youth movement on Facebook with the objective to provide a coordinated platform for the youth to engage in an informed debate about social and economic policies and programs in Nigeria.
The organization was legally registered as a not-for-profit in March 2012, to infuse human rights into social and economic governance processes in Nigeria.
The Twitter ban in Nigeria represents the most glaring example of how state authorities use security as an excuse to interrupt citizens’ access to information and communication sites perceived to be sympathetic to anti-government rhetoric.
While S4C commends the latest development, it is instructive to note that the harsh consequences the ban has had on the civic space, the economy, and everyday life of Nigerians are far from over.
Millions were denied access to real-time and unfiltered information and conversations on governance, undermining press freedom and the online civic space. Twitter ban follows a pattern of repression of civic freedoms witnessed in the country in recent years.
Before the twitter ban, controversial legislative proposals like the Social Media and Hate Speech bills have been introduced in the federal parliament seeking to increase governmental powers to regulate the social media, control the digital spaces, undertake surveillance operations and intrude personal privacy.
Several statements credited to state officials betray the tendency of the federal government to restrict free speech, stifle dissent and control the press. These trends pose significant challenges to civil society.
Furthermore, in the 222 days that the ban subsisted, reports showed that the Nigerian economy lost approximately N2.5 billion daily. Many small businesses, tech start-ups, and young Nigerians were the hardest hit by the ban.
Nigeria boasts of the largest number of startups in the tech ecosystem in Africa and most of these startups use Twitter to attract investment. So biting were the effects of the Twitter ban that most Nigerians were willing to expose themselves to the security threats associated with using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in order to bypass the blockade and access the platform.
Lifting the ban at a time the political temperature is heating up is fueling the perception that unbanning Twitter may not be unconnected to heavy campaigns scheduled ahead of 2023 elections.
According to S4C, after winning elections following intense campaigns on social media, politicians develop Twitter-phobia, and strive to destroy the very bridge they used to climb to power.
The organisation advised those who use Twitter for political campaigns not to be afraid of being held accountable on Twitter.
While urging civic actors not to relent in holding political leaders accountable, S4C sympathizes with every Nigerian who experienced social and economic losses as a result of the ban. They call on the Nigerian authorities to ensure the civic space remains open and free before, during and after the elections.