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VPN to the rescue, FG ports to Koo… it’s one month of Twitter ban in Nigeria

 On June 4, the federal government suspended the operations of Twitter in Nigeria, accusing the microblogging site of undermining Nigeria’s existence.


The suspension came days after a post by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 1967 civil war was deleted by Twitter — even though the government claims that both events are not related.

The ban of Twitter, which has about 40 million users in Nigeria, appears to be the beginning of what the government had planned to do over the years — the regulation of social media. In fact, the federal government has since asked the house of representatives to enact a law to regulate social and online media in Nigeria.

Here are some highlights of the developments that have trailed the ban.

VPN TO THE RESCUE

Prior to the suspension of Twitter, the initialism, VPN (virtual private network), was alien to many Nigerians. It, however, became the word of the moment as Nigerians looked for a way to bypass the ban and access Twitter. VPN works by establishing a secure connection between you and the internet. Via the VPN, all your data traffic is routed through an encrypted virtual tunnel. This disguises your IP address when you use the internet, making its location invisible or appearing to be at another location.

NIGERIA TO THE WORLD

Through the use of VPN, several Nigerians were able to access Twitter by disguising their locations through the IP addresses of other countries. Nigerians were tweeting virtually from the Netherlands, US, UK, Germany, Singapore. The implication of this is that events that are supposed to trend on the Nigerian Twitter space made it to the trends of other countries, consequently putting Africa’s giant in the spotlight.

Days after the ban, “werey”, “June 12” were trending in US and the Netherlands, respectively.

FG OPENS ACCOUNT ON KOO

Days after Twitter was suspended in Nigeria, the federal government opened an official account on Koo, an Indian microblogging platform.

The account, with the handle, “@nigeriagov”, and username, Government of Nigeria”, had over 60,000 followers as of July 5.

ECOWAS WADES IN

Following the ban, Abubakar Malami, minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation, had said anyone found using Twitter will be prosecuted. Reacting to the order, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians filed a suit against the government over the development.

The community court of justice of the Economic Comminity of West African States (ECOWAS) subsequently issued an order restraining Buhari or any member of his administration from prosecuting any Nigerian for using Twitter.

The federal government, however, argued that the court lacks the jurisdiction to act on the matter, adding that suspension of the operations of Twitter in Nigeria is not a right recognised under any treaty enforceable by the ECOWAS court.

‘N65.4 BILLION LOST’

NetBlocks, a data-driven online service, said the suspension of Twitter operations will cost Nigeria N2.18 billion daily. Many Nigerian businesses depend on the microblogging site for marketing, entertainment and other uses. Going by this figure, Nigeria has lost about N65 billion since the ban. 

FG AND TWITTER TO DIALOGUE

About two weeks after the ban, the federal government constituted a team of six ministers to sit at the table and dialogue with Twitter on the way forward over its suspension.

The ministers include Lai Mohammed (information and culture) as its chairman; Abubakar Malami (justice); Babatunde Fashola (works and housing); Isa Pantami (communications and digital economy); Geoffrey Onyeama (foreign affairs), and Festus Keyamo (labour and employment (state).

According to Lai, Twitter must be registered as a business entity in Nigeria as one of the conditions that must be met before the suspension can be reversed.

FG’S OTT DIRECTIVE

Following the ban on Twitter’s operations, the federal government directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence licensing all Over-the-Top (OTT) and social media operators in Nigeria.

OTT services are essential media services offered directly to viewers via the internet. Most often, such contents can be streamed on computers, smartphones, and other devices. 

They bypass cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms — the type of media services that NBC traditionally controls or regulates.

With the regulation, the government will set modalities for OTT service operations in the country. The modalities may hamper citizens’ ability to freely and safely express themselves on those platforms.

The directive will not only affect Twitter but also WhatsApp, Facebook, FB Messenger, Skype, iROKOtv, and Netflix.

REPS REJECT MOTION TO LIFT BAN

The house of representatives, on July 1, rejected a motion to lift the indefinite suspension of the operations of Twitter in Nigeria. The decision of the lawmakers was taken after Olusegun Odebunmi, chairman of the house committee on information, national orientation, ethics and values, moved a motion for the consideration of the committee’s report.

The lower chamber, instead, endorsed the decision of the federal government to dialogue with Twitter.

WAY FORWARD

Despite several calls from stakeholders for the government to lift the ban, it has maintained that its decision to suspend Twitter is in the best interest of the country. Although the presidency insists the suspension is temporary, as of now, it is unclear when the ban will be lifted.



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