July 25, 2021

In Nigeria, the suspension of Twitter denounced as “a means of gagging the media”

The suspension of Twitter, then the government order to the audiovisual media to delete their account in a gesture “Patriotic”, deeply shocked Nigeria, a young country, very connected, where this social network is an important tool of social protest. More than 120 million Nigerians now have access to the Internet and nearly 20% of them, or 40 million people, say they have a Twitter account, according to the statistical research firm NOI Polls, based in Lagos.

This extremely high figure – France only has 8 million subscribers, for example – can be explained in particular by “By its large and young population, but also by the weight of its diaspora, in the United States in particular, or by the worldwide notoriety of Nigerian stars” cinema or afropop music, analysis for AFP Manon Fouriscot, expert in the use of social networks in Africa and co-founder of Connected Africa.

Read also Nigeria wants country’s radio and television stations to delete their Twitter accounts

But studies also show that Twitter, unlike other social networks, is overwhelmingly used in Nigeria to “Give a voice to the voiceless” or “Challenge the government on what is wrong in the country”, according to NOI Polls. “Twitter is, in Nigeria and more and more on the continent, a means for civil societies to express themselves, to mobilize, to alert international public opinion”, underlines Manon Fouriscot.

“Digital surveillance” and “cyber attacks”

In October 2020, the #EndSARS movement against the violence of the SARS police unit, which had turned into a youth movement against the power in place, first exploded on Twitter before taking to the streets. Carried by afropop icons to millions of subscribers and then relayed by major international influencers, #EndSARS was for two days the most shared hashtag in the world. The protests that followed were the most important in modern Nigerian history, raising fears of a destabilization of power, before being put down in blood.

“In recent years, the Nigerian government has tightened control of online media”, notes Kian Vesteinsson, researcher at Freedom House, a human rights monitoring organization. “Nigerian journalists and press groups claim to have been the target of digital surveillance and victims of cyber attacks in connection with security forces”, assures this specialist in questions of technology and democracy. But by completely suspending Twitter for an indefinite period, the authorities, who ensure that the platform wanted to destabilize the country by letting the Biafran separatists express themselves and by deleting tweets from President Muhammadu Buhari, have taken a new step.

Read also In Nigeria, the mobilization against police violence is gaining momentum

On Monday, the national audiovisual regulatory body (NBC) asked all radio and television stations in the country to delete their Twitter account and warned that any use of this social network would be considered as “Antipatriotique”. Using a VPN (virtual private network), which allows access to Twitter bypassing the blockade in Nigeria, will also be considered an offense, the information minister warned, although there is no law in this regard. meaning has not been voted on in Parliament.

Human rights organizations claim that this provision violates the principles of fundamental freedom established by the 1999 Constitution, the official date of the end of military regimes.

“Nigeria has returned to dictatorship”

“The gagging of Twitter is above all a means of gagging the media”, assures the web manager of a major television channel at AFP: “We have to react, because if we don’t react to that, they can go even further. “ A media group, DAAR Communications, announced that it had filed a complaint for damage to its economic interests. Others, like Arise TV, continued to use Twitter to share the news of the day from their offices in the United Kingdom or the United States, in order to circumvent the directive.

“Nigeria has returned to dictatorship”, said Kola Tubosun, Nigerian writer, bluntly in an editorial for the international magazine Foreign Policy. “We have the feeling of being in 1984, ruled by a military regime”, he writes in reference to the year when Muhammadu Buhari, at the time of general, took over the country for the first time, after a coup.

But Youth 2.0 is already reorganizing itself on social networks under the hashtag #KeepItOn (“continue”) and is trying to organize a popular movement on June 12. On Monday evening, on the ClubHouse platform, a trendy new social discussion network in Nigeria, thousands of Internet users gathered to answer questions such as “How to block the dictatorship? “ or “Twenty-three years ago Abacha died [l’ancien chef de la dictature militaire des années 1990]. What have we learned since that time? “ And were debating… without a VPN.

The World with AFP