By G9ija

Nigeria will now have “direct access” to manage content on Twitter that violates Nigerian laws and Twitter community rules, as parts of the agreements reached between the social media platform and the West African country to lift the ban on Twitter operations.

“Twitter has agreed to enrol Nigeria in its Partner Support and Law Enforcement Portals,” Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, who led Nigeria’s negotiation team with Twitter, said.

“The Partner Support Portal provides a direct channel for government officials and Twitter staff to manage prohibited content that violates Twitter community rules. At the same time, the Law Enforcement Portal provides a channel for the law enforcement agencies to submit a report with a legal justification where it suspects that content violates Nigerian Laws.”

Although Adeboye Adegoke, a senior programme manager at the pan-African digital rights organisation Paradigm Initiative, said it was a standard “modus operandi of platforms across the world,” he, however, noted that the exclusion of civil society organisations and human rights advocacy groups during the negotiation was “worrisome”.

“This is indeed sinister and an indictment of Twitter as a company as much as it is with the Nigerian government,” Adegoke said. “Putting these stakeholders in the dark on what transpired between Twitter and the government puts Twitter in a very bad light and shows their lack of regard for civil society consultation in the policy process.”

Ikemesit Effiong, the head of research at SBM Intelligence, a socio-economic research firm in Lagos, said the agreement does not provide the Nigerian government with a direct channel to take down tweets it finds offensive.

Twitter already has similar agreements with India and Turkey. And Effiong feared it may be used to control narratives, especially as Nigeria enters campaign season in the coming months.

“It enhances the kind of access and engagement that Abuja can bring to bear on Twitter and make it more likely that the government has its way,” Effiong said.

Vendetta or national security?

The Nigerian government suspended Twitter’s operations earlier in June after the social media platform deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari for breaching the site’s rules.

“We are pleased that Twitter has been restored for everyone in Nigeria. Our mission in Nigeria. Our mission in Nigeria and around the world is to serve the public conversation,” Twitter said after Nigeria lifted the suspension.

“We are deeply committed to Nigeria, where Twitter is used by people for commerce, cultural engagement, and civic participation.”

The Nigerian government had insisted the suspension was a matter of national security and not related to the deletion of Buhari’s tweet.

But the Nigerian government under Buhari has never hidden its intention to regulate social media in the country.

Twitter became the prime target when its CEO Jack Dorsey supported the #EndSARS protests against police brutality in October 2020. The social media giant also decided to cite its African headquarters in Ghana, noting that “as a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate.”

Absolving the government of any responsibilities, Nigeria’s information minister Lai Mohammed claimed Twitter’s decision to cite its office in Ghana was a result of Nigerians demarketing the country on social media.

Seething intolerance or necessary evil

At the height of the #EndSARS protests in October 2020, Buhari himself blamed the criticisms his government faced on “the spreading of deliberate falsehood and misinformation through the social media in particular.”

A year before, the president did not hide his desire for social media to be totally regulated. Buhari argued that the use of social media was creating divisions in the country and threatened national security.

“Our attention is increasingly being focused on cyber-crimes and the abuse of technology through hate speech and other divisive material being propagated on social media,” he said in an Independent Day broadcast on October 1, 2019. “Whilst we uphold the constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the purported exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our National Security, we will take firm and decisive action.”

Many critics find his predilection for that ironic, pointing to the role the social media played in his election victories in 2015 and 2019.

Mohammed had also insisted that the government was determined to regulate social media. The minister even claimed, “Twitter’s mission in Nigeria is very suspect.”

Winners and losers

Effiong and Adegoke agreed that Nigerian Twitter users got the short end of the stick.

Effiong feared the agreement has launched Nigeria further into authoritarian democracies and helped the government control political narratives effectively.

On his part, Adegoke said he was disappointed by Twitter, noting that the social media platform has sent a “clear message to Nigerians through that action that it was only interested in its business interest in Nigeria.”