On the 8th of June, 2021, just a few days after the Nigerian government banned the activities of social media site, Twitter, they drafted plans forcing OTT internet companies to register their operations in Nigeria, which some have criticized as a “Social Media Bill through the Backdoor.”
The Federal House of Representatives passed a resolution to investigate the legality or otherwise, of the Federal Government’s decision to suspend Twitter in the country, and the House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, mandated the Committees on Communication, Justice, Information and Culture, and National Security and Intelligence to begin a 10-day investigation, after which its findings would be reviewed by the House. Also, the Minister of Culture and Information, Lai Mohammed, was invited as part of the investigation.
However, as of June 21, 2021, ten days after the Committee was mandated to submit its findings, there has been no report; rather, what we have are reports of Nigeria building a firewall, which the FG denied. This has ignited the fears of tech founders in Nigeria, as the social media clampdown is said to be bad for the fundraising scene.
In the absence of the report, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, has been on an anti-social media offensive, stating that the directive that Over the Top (OTT) and social media platforms operating in the country must register and obtain a license to operate is in conformity with global standards.
“Singapore regulates the social media, Australia has done so, even EU that does not have particular laws on social media has made recommendations in a white paper. The EU says that social media platforms that publish content that are harmful to the security of a nation or make such impressionable move, such content should be removed,’’ he said.
Mr Mohammed also blamed Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey, for damages caused by hoodlums after the #EndSARS protest which was organised by Nigerian youths through Twitter.
“If you ask people to donate money via bitcoins for EndSARS protesters then you are vicariously liable for whatever is the outcome of the protest. We have forgotten that EndSARS led to the loss of lives, including 37 policemen, six soldiers, 57 civilians while property worth billions of naira were destroyed.
164 police vehicles and 134 police stations were razed to the ground, 265 private corporate organisation were looted while 243 public property were looted.
81 warehouses were looted while over 200 brand new buses bought by Lagos State Government were burnt to ashes,’’ he said.
The Information Minister also stated that the management of Twitter had reached out to the administration for dialogue. However, two days later, the Minister accused Twitter’s management of having a “tepid approach” towards negotiations.
“As of today, I do not see Twitter as being sincere in its approach to resolve the issue,” he said.
Other stakeholders in the dispute between the FG and Twitter have been less hawkish compared to the Minister, as Twitter announced its willingness to meet with the FG to ensure the restoration of its operations in Nigeria.
“We have informed the Nigerian government that we are ready to meet for an open discussion to address mutual concerns and see the service restored.
We remain advocates for the free and #OpenInternet everywhere,” Twitter said.
The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, also expressed optimism. “Our expectation is that with engagement between the Federal Government and Twitter, we will resolve the dispute between Twitter and our government.
Our belief is that Nigeria needs Twitter just as much as Twitter needs Nigeria,” he said.
The Senate President’s comments could be a sign that the National Assembly is ready to end the dispute between both sides. However, the report is still not published despite that its due date has passed. The Nigerian legislature is also yet to call the Minister as it said it would.
The uncertainty over the social media crackdown is bound to have negative side effects on Africa’s largest tech funding scene as many founders use Twitter to meet foreign venture capitalists willing to invest in the ecosystem. This, of course, is besides the scores of businesses that depend on Twitter for lead generation, sales and service delivery.