By barring 40 million users from using the platform, the government has effectively silenced ordinary Nigerians and taken away financial opportunities from them.
ABUJA, Nigeria — When the Nigerian government announced last Friday that it had decided to “indefinitely suspend" Twitter’s operations in the country due to “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria's corporate existence,” Chuma Nnoli knew straightaway the decision would have a huge impact on his earnings.
Like many other well known on-air personalities in the commercial city of Lagos with a large Twitter following, Nnoli, a prominent radio sports presenter at Nigeria Info FM and its sister station Cool FM, gets paid by top companies to tweet about their brands to his nearly 38,000 followers.
Unfortunately, the nationwide ban on the social media platform means that number not only counts for nothing but ensures that he loses a host of outlets he profits from in the same way these brands lose a very important influencer.
"It's painful that people have to lose so much money because of this ban," Nnoli, host of the popular weekend Cool FM Fans Show, told TRT World. "Just because the government is unhappy with Twitter, thousands of people earning a living from the platform have to suffer."
The government took the decision just two days after Twitter deleted a controversial post by President Muhammadu Buhari in which he threatened to “deal with” people in the country’s southeast, whom he blames for being behind frequent attacks on the region's public infrastructure.
On June 1, Buhari had tweeted that “many of those (in clear reference to some people in the Christian dominated southeast region) misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
The president, who is Muslim from Katsina State in the northwest, was making reference to the Nigeria-Biafra war, which killed an estimated three million people, mostly from the Igbo tribe in the eastern part of the country between 1967 and 1970. Buhari, who was a battalion commander during the conflict, played a key role in helping Nigerian soldiers conquer Biafra, a secessionist state that existed until the end of the civil war and that represented nationalist aspirations of the Igbo people.
It took until the following day for Twitter to act on the president's tweet, which was deleted after many Nigerians on the platform flagged it. The social media giant said the post "was in violation of the Twitter rules,” but the action appeared to anger Buhari who approved the ban to the detriment of millions of users, many of whom are still struggling to come to terms with the shocking development.
"Twitter gave us the opportunity not just to earn money, but to reach out to many of our listeners and fans whom we give financial incentives," said Nnoli. "The government is taking food away from many tables."
Nnoli's comments are just one example of the huge impact Nigeria's ill-advised ban is going to have on hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Nigerians who earn money through the use of the social media platform.
As companies can no longer seek to promote their business on Twitter, many influencers will lose the opportunity to get paid to promote businesses on the platform. New sole proprietors are going to be denied the chance to introduce their ventures to millions of Nigerians just as organisations will be forced to sack those they employed to specifically handle Twitter updates and other engagements on the platform.
In essence what the ban mostly achieves, from an economic point of view, is to add to Nigeria's already very high unemployment rate, which currently stands at 33 percent — the second highest in the world.
And it's already having a financial impact on the country. According to NetBlocks, a watchdog organisation that monitors cybersecurity and internet governance, every single day of the Twitter ban takes away about 2.5 billion naira (around $6 million) from the Nigerian economy, which has become increasingly reliant on digital and new media.
"In whichever way you look at it, this ban hurts Nigeria more than it helps the country," Mike Okpanachi, a social entrepreneur based in the capital Abuja, told TRT World. "The country at the moment needs a lot more of its young people gainfully employed, but it's taking jobs away from them with this ban."
Courtesy of young entrepreneurs like Okpanachi, Nigeria has been able to attract huge investments to its digital sector, which is among the best performing in the continent and grew tremendously by 13 percent last year, despite the economy slipping into its second recession in five years as a result of the coronavirus.
Unfortunately, the current ban will make it very difficult to keep up with that rapid growth.
"What could happen is that investors may turn their attention to neighbouring countries, where there is less likelihood of governments disrupting the digital sector with bans and other unnecessary regulations," said Okpanachi.
"This Twitter ban has shown how fragile the digital space in Nigeria is."
While the 40 million Nigerians active on Twitter cuts across all ages, it is the youth that will suffer the most now. Besides losing out financially, young people who've used the platform in recent months to organise anti-government protests have, at the moment, lost arguably their most effective tool to hold their government to account.
In a country with huge human rights concerns, Twitter has been the platform Nigerian youths have used to mobilise campaigns like the #EndSARS movement against police brutality. As many agree, the new development deals a massive blow to the protest movement against insecurity that is currently ravaging most parts of the country.
"This ban takes away that weapon for accountability," said Okpanachi. "The voices of ordinary Nigerians have now been silenced."