DAKAR, Senegal – The Nigerian government on Thursday restored access to Twitter in the country after a seven-month suspension imposed after the social media site deleted a post from the Nigerian president threatening a violent crackdown on secessionist groups.
The government blocked access to the site in June, but backed down on Wednesday after Twitter accepted multiple requests. Twitter will establish an office in the country, pay taxes there, appoint a representative and “act with respect for Nigerian laws as well as national culture and history,” a government official said.
Since the ban took effect, Nigerians have only been able to access the service using a virtual private network. The Twitter deletion of a post by President Muhammadu Buhari was widely believed to have prompted the government to block the site, but government official Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi said on Wednesday that was because it had been used. for subversive ends and criminal activities. “
In the now deleted tweet, which targeted ‘those who misbehave’, Mr Buhari said the government would ‘treat them in the language they understand’, a message which has been widely read as a reference to the civil war. Nigerian murderer. . Some interpreted it as a threat of genocide.
In recent years, Nigerian lawmakers have introduced several bills that, if passed, would regulate social media, defending it in the name of security or national unity. Rights groups say the measures – none of which have been approved – could violate international laws protecting free speech.
The human rights group Amnesty International said wednesday night that the Twitter ban was “illegal” and described it as an attack on the fundamental freedoms of Nigerians, including freedom of speech.
Several organizations have sued the government over the ban and the telecommunications companies that enforced it.
In one Tweeter, Twitter said it was “satisfied” that its service was restored.
“Our mission in Nigeria and around the world is to serve the public conversation,” the post read. “We are deeply engaged in Nigeria, where Twitter is used by people for business, cultural engagement and civic participation. “
Twitter is far from the most popular social media platform in Nigeria – it is believed to have around three million users and is ranked behind WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.
Nonetheless, it carries considerable weight in the country, where it is often used by the elite, and was used in 2020 to stage the largest anti-government uprising in a generation, organized by young people against police brutality.
The ban could have cost the Nigerian economy more than $ 1.4 billion, according to a tool developed by watchdog organization NetBlocks to calculate the economic effect of internet disruptions, mobile data outages or blackouts. application restrictions. Many Nigerians who have used Twitter to promote their business have lost income.
Beyond the economic consequences, there were also profound societal consequences, said Yemi Adamolekun, executive director of Enough is Enough Nigeria, an organization working for good governance and public accountability.
The Nigeria Center for Disease Control was using Twitter to disseminate information about the spread of the coronavirus, she said. It was a go-to source for Nigerians looking for information on reported cases, deaths and testing. During the ban, the organization Twitter account was inactive. His last tweet was a breakdown of cases by state as of June 4.
The organization disseminated information via Facebook, but many Nigerians were unaware of it, even as the Delta variant spread.
“A lot of people didn’t fully understand the impact of the Delta variant,” Ms. Adamolekun said, “because they weren’t getting the updates.”