state-society relations

Nigeria’s Twitter blackout: What’s really behind Buhari’s social media ban?

By Chinedu Asadu

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Posted on June 7, 2021 12:05

Man looks at newspapers at a newsstand in Abuja © A man looks at newspapers at a newsstand in Abuja, Nigeria June 5, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
A man looks at newspapers at a newsstand in Abuja, Nigeria June 5, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

After Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari got angry with Twitter for deleting a tweet of his, he retaliated by blocking the country of more than 200 million to accessing the social media site.

In 2015, after he was elected to lead the most populous black nation in the world, President Muhammadu Buhari dropped his military title of ‘General’ after claiming to have become a “true democrat”. But after failed attempts at camouflaging, as well as unsuccessful efforts, to regulate social media and clamp down on free speech, he finally took a step against internet freedom – for the strangest of reasons.

On Wednesday June 2, Twitter deleted the president’s tweet that had threatened to deal with those causing trouble in the country in “the language they understand”. In the tweet, he spoke about the experience with the civil war where millions of Nigerians were killed.

The president’s outrage in numerous tweets was directed at the south-east region, and so, his comments provoked many Nigerians who accused him of threatening a replay of the extrajudicial killings experienced during the war.

Less than 24 hours after, Twitter deleted the post for violating its rules, prompting government criticism. The Information Minister Lai Mohammed said the social media platform was “suspect” and had a hidden agenda in Nigeria. He returned a day after to announce that the federal government is indefinitely suspending Twitter’s operations in the country, citing “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence” as a reason for the action.

But many Nigerians saw it coming after the president’s tweet was deleted.

Dr Leena Koni Hoffmann, an associate fellow of Africa Programme at Chatham House, said the government’s grouse with Twitter is also about the “democratising role of social media in mobilising and amplifying the voices of young Nigerians”.

‘Dictatorial tendencies’

True to the government’s threat, Nigerians woke up on Saturday 5 June to realise that indeed, they had no access to the platform. The Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria confirmed in a statement that its members were instructed to restrict access to Twitter, but reluctantly added that “the rights held by people offline must also be protected online.”

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