Change was the slogan of the Buhari regime when it came to power. As I look back on 2015, I remember how exciting it was to consider the possibility of change. I was bursting with excitement and eagerness to be a part of a Nigeria that worked. We had hope despite the unstable economy, the alarming rate of insecurity, and the deteriorating condition of our standard of living. Change was on the horizon. “Daunting as the task may be, it is by no means insurmountable. There is now a national consensus that our chosen route to national development is democracy. To achieve our objectives we must consciously work the democratic system,” Buhari said at his inauguration.
Today, Nigeria is mired in a deepening rut. A stench of injustice and oppression permeates the air. Nigerians remain under the threat of intimidation. The Nigerian government recently announced the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. The announcement, which was made via Twitter, came two days after Twitter deleted a provocative tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari in which he threatened to punish pro-Biafra groups and blamed them for aggressive acts against government and security officials. The tweet was deleted after many Nigerians reported the tweet for inciting violence against an ethnic group. It should be noted that Facebook took the same actions by deleting PMB’s post, stating that it did not comply with their global policy. My question now is this: what is the disparity between Facebook and Twitter use in Nigeria? According to my analysis, Twitter gives Nigerian youths an opportunity to express their constitutional rights; it is a mobilising social platform, an e-commerce platform and a space for public debate. These unique benefits of Twitter make it different from other social media sites, which is why the government did not implement the same procedure for Facebook.
The myth of Nigerian democracy is to believe that it truly existed in the first place. Ideally, a functioning democracy would allow me to believe and assert that I employed President Muhammadu Buhari and his aides. I should be able to say that I gave them a platform and a voice. However, recent events have me believing otherwise. This is history repeating itself. According to an article published by Newswatch in 1985, “The Buhari regime, like NEPA, had no friends. They came to power proclaiming themselves a friend of the people. They had come, so they assured an unsuspecting populace. There had not been any government in the history of Nigeria that so blatantly disregarded public opinion as did the Buhari regime.” So what is Nigerian democracy, if not a lie unfolding before our eyes?
The first questions I asked when I came across the information were: How will the government implement this ban? What would be the role of telecommunication organisations? I underestimated their ability to execute tasks swiftly and without apologies or explanations. I woke up and Twitter was gone. Their response indicates that they are aware of the current insecurities, the declining standard of living, and the high crime rate in the country, and yet they decided it was not worth their time. They decided to clamp down on freedom of speech because one man’s ego was wounded. In the last 8 months, the Nigerian government has managed to ban cryptocurrency, frozen bank accounts of protesting citizens, gaslit Nigerians about what happened on the 20th of October, 2020 during the EndSARS protests, and shut down access to social media without waiting for the social media bill to come into play. If there’s anything the implementation of this ban says, it’s that they were waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
The weight of this restriction is being felt by a whole community of Nigerians. Nigerians view Twitter as much more than just a social media platform. Some consider it an e-commerce platform. The use of Twitter has allowed a generation of young Nigerians to establish their personal brand. We use Twitter as our 911, our way of raising awareness about events and injustices when we notice them.
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) threatened to sue Nigerian authorities over their illegal indefinite suspension of Twitter. The idea is an appropriate one, however, I am sceptical that it would be feasible at this time since the courts are on strike. Our right to free speech and expression has been diminished, as has our access to justice. SERAP also urged Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, to hold the Nigerian government to account for the suspension of Twitter. SERAP is not the only organisation fighting this. Seyi Makinde, governor of Oyo State, in his statement published on June 5, appealed to the Federal Government to reverse the suspension ‘for the greater good of Nigerians’. Makinde remains the only governor to address this. Twitter also relayed that they would work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. Jack ‘chose violence’ and I am here for it.
International organisations have spoken up about this suspension, however, I am not certain that our government responds to international disgrace anymore. Rather than empower its citizens, the Nigerian government clamps down on human rights, plunging the nation and all it represents into a sinkhole. As of now, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has ordered the arrest and prosecution of Nigerians still using Twitter. Consequently, police officers now have more power over Nigerians and can use this as an opportunity to harass and impose extortionist tactics on them. To enforce a law that does not exist would be unconstitutional. This is a conspiracy against hardworking Nigerians who have done nothing but point out the wrongdoings of this administration.
There is always a feeling of tension among Nigerians. We are no longer surprised by anything. It has been demanding to adjust to challenging situations and endure unwarranted abuse that should not be permitted in a democratic system. Currently, we are living under a brutal dictatorship that operates under the guise of a constitutionally run state. A stunning display of pseudo-democracy. As Democracy Day approaches on June 12, I am eager to see how it will go as, at this point, our leaders might as well rip apart the Nigerian constitution and grind it to dust.
Twitter has been extremely beneficial to Nigerian democracy. When mainstream media abstained from covering the protests, we had an arena of mobilisation and communication. We must understand, however, that the internet did not give us a voice; rather, it amplified it. What if that was taken away, would our voices be silenced? That’s not possible. Our willingness to come back stronger every time we hit the wall will prove a powerful force. Despite the oppression we face, we still hold a voice in the world. In the course of this situation and beyond, we will still have our voices. They can take Twitter away from us, but they cannot stop us from tweeting.