Who Offended Buhari? Twitter or Nigerians? By Fredrick Nwabufo

Fredrick Nwabufo

The suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government is a jackboot experiment. It cannot be defended, rationalized or excused in anyway. Internet freedom is as basic as the right to life and the right to freedom of expression.

Government is a relationship – between the leadership and the governed. A democratic government, in particular, should not operate in vacancy of citizens’ imprimatur. A government needs the trust, support and goodwill of its citizens. Legitimacy is the reward for good governance. Any government, which by intransigence severs the funiculus that links it with the citizens, is taking the highroad to oblivion. 

Really, most people will not remember the infrastructure and extraordinary projects executed by an administration. But they will remember how secure they felt and the freedom they enjoyed under that government.  General Abacha is reputed to have executed some of the sterling infrastructure projects in Nigeria. In fact, some of the roads his regime through PTF built are still sturdy to date. But how is he remembered today? He is remembered as a murderer and a violator of human rights. 

Our leaders should learn from the ruins of others before them. Power is situational. What we do with it when we possess it will live with us, and even with our relics and generations to come. At this point, what I believe should be elemental for President Buhari is his legacy. He should not let ‘’power hawks’’ carnivorise what is left of his substance. 

The suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government is a jackboot experiment. It cannot be defended, rationalised or excused in anyway. Internet freedom is as basic as the right to life and the right to freedom of expression. 

Naturally, some notable Nigerians and organisations have condemned this insidious attempt at absolutism. The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) led by Kabiru Yusuf said lucidly ‘’the suspension of Twitter’s operation by Nigeria is wrong and an overreaction’’. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos state, and member of the APC – the president’s party – is of the opinion that the federal government should have managed the situation better. 

“The federal government can handle this a lot better — because of the number of ecommerce; the number of youths doing digital stuff on the internet, and we cannot throw that away and say it’s not happening. I believe there could be a lot of restraint and better management from both sides,” the governor said.

Nigeria is said to lose N2.18 billion per day owing to the Twitter shutdown — according to NetBlocks, a data-driven online service. We do not need an Okonjo-Iweala to divine for us the cost of this folly. Many youths and businesses rely on Twitter for oxygen. And the federal government just pulled the plug — in a country with 40 million unemployed people, blistering inflation and insecurity. 

Toiling Nigerians lose more in this dogfight between the Nigerian government and Twitter. Twitter loses nothing in the short and in the long run. So, who offended Buhari and who should be writhing from the economic perils of his ban? Well, if the government is deploying this as a gambit to asphyxiate dissenting voices on social media it will be a futile performance. Only good governance can silence the noise on social media. 

Citizens from all strata have been giving the government a dressing down in the past few days. As expected, the US, the UK, Canada and EU did not equivocate in expressing disappointment at this punitive approach to an issue that could have been resolved through other channels. The condemnations are in order. 

What is very annoying is the threat by Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the federation, to arrest and prosecute anyone circumventing the ban to gain access to Twitter. This is farcical. Why is this man making a spectacle of Nigeria in the public square? I think we have enough comedians in the country already. 

However, there is the pesky issue of hate speech, fake news, misinformation and disinformation on social media — particularly on Twitter and Facebook? How do we address this problem? We cannot look away and pretend that this creeping monster does not portend enormous danger for Nigeria. 

Some countries like India, even the US and the UK, have set these tech leviathans to task regarding sanitising their social media space. We cannot suspend our hands and watch Nigeria burn. 

As Kadaria Ahmed, top journalist, said while reacting to the ‘’decree’’ of the National Broadcasting Commission to broadcast stations to deactivate their Twitter accounts, ‘’the government (must) go back and engage with experts many of whom abound in the country on how to fight hate speech, misinformation and disinformation while respecting and upholding the rights that are fundamental in a democracy’’.

Source: Sahara Reporters.