As the face-off between popular micro-blogging site, Twitter and the Nigerian government led by President Muhammadu Buhari looks set to enter a third week, there is a strong possibility that the government will win.
The Federal Government entered the fight with everything to lose. It entered a fight against the world, a no retreat, no surrender kind of battle. It has to win. Fortunately for the government, winning is flexible.
All the government needs is a symbolic gesture from Twitter. First, Twitter took down some tweets by Nnamdi Kanu and expressed readiness to engage with the government over the impasse. A definite initial win for the government.
Secondly, many pundits expected the government to come under more severe pressure from the international community. However, it is more complicated than that. Because the government could rightfully say we are not banning social media. After all, we still have Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and many more. Rather, we restricted Twitter for its inability to properly serve the function of being a gatekeeper.
Thirdly, there are several countries hailing the move by the FG. In fact, a number of politicians several in the US, particularly, the supporters of former US President, Donald Trump. Trump himself had unashamedly turned around from describing Nigeria as a shithole country during his time in power to praising the country for banning Twitter.
“More COUNTRIES should ban Twitter and Facebook for not allowing free and open speech – all voices should be heard,” he had declared.
Twitter and other social media companies are not as invincible as some of us are wont to believe. Governments around the world are testing the waters. Last month, Twitter deleted 50 tweets critical of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s administration for the way it handled the coronavirus pandemic. The action was at the request of the government. Last month, Facebook temporarily removed a hashtag calling for the resignation of Modi.
In May, the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, signed into law a bill prohibiting social media companies from de-platforming politicians. This bill, a first of its kind in the US, will come into effect on July 1st.
The point is, the question of state and sovereignty is winning the argument against the policy of social media companies. As times goes on, more countries will focus on breaking the monopolistic power of these companies. The weakening of Big Tech and other social media companies will be gradual but inevitable.
This is why citizens must prepare for that reality. Social media, despite its powers, is a recent phenomenon; indeed, less than 20 years and government all over the world are battle-ready to clip their wings. Governments are ready to take any available opportunity.
Undoubtedly, the Buhari administration has a serious axe to grind with Jack Dorsey. His involvement in the #EndSARS movement; the decision to site Twitter regional headquarters in Ghana and the removal of Buhari’s tweet, are some of them.
The government would have probably not given a damn about the decision to pick Ghana over Nigeria. However, the statement released by the company was a huge blow to the FG’s pride.
The final straw was the tweet. It got the government to the point of: ‘enough, we can’t take it anymore’.
Dorsey will have to make a compromise and the Buhari government will accept it. However, that will be the first of many that Twitter will have to make in order to keep operating in Nigeria.
The National Assembly is behind the government and the judiciary remains a long shot. This is because the case will have to go from the lower court to the Supreme Court. This means time and time is the currency here.
Twitter is desperate to have the ban lifted.
The longer the ban drags on, the more the Buhari government keeps pressing home its advantage; despite the obvious impacts on the Nigerian economy and the livelihood of mane youths who earn their daily bread from the platform.