The Nigerian Government Banned Its Citizens From Using Twitter, And The Consequences Are Steep


“The protests began and gained considerable momentum thanks to social media,” 23-year-old journalist Eniafe Momodu told BuzzFeed News. “It was probably the first time a lot of the older generation of Nigerians, including most of our government officials, really understood the power and impact of social media.”

Even before #EndSARS, though, the Nigerian government, under the administration of Buhari, has been persistent in its attempts to establish social media restrictions. In 2019, the anti-social media bill, which sought to criminalize the use of social media in “peddling false or malicious information,” was proposed. The bill was opposed by members of the public, who launched petitions while calling it a bid to further police the population, and was eventually killed.

Before that, in 2015, another now-withdrawn piece of legislation named the Frivolous Petitions (Prohibitions) Bill was introduced less than a year after Buhari came into power. The proposed law threatened up to seven years in prison or a $25,000 fine for anyone found guilty of publishing “false information that could threaten the security of the country.”

The Twitter ban and threats to prosecute are illegal according to Nigeria’s constitution, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, human rights lawyer Ridwan Oke told BuzzFeed News.

“They all talk about the same thing, which is the right to freedom of expression. They are inalienable rights,” said Oke.

Several human rights organizations have spoken out against this ban, with the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project taking the federal government to the Economic Community of West African States court, with 176 concerned Nigerians joining in to file the lawsuit.

The move to block Twitter has received support from former US president Donald Trump, who suggested that he should have done the same thing while he was in office and accused social media platforms of “not allowing free and open speech.”

It would be hard to quantify how much this ban is affecting the millions of people who consider Twitter to be a major resource. Nigerians we spoke to have shared that they are feeling upset, anxious, or afraid, and most say they are still in disbelief.

“When the ban was announced, I felt scared, like something bad was going to happen and we would not be able to reach out for help,” Olapeju Jolaoso, a 28-year-old business owner, told BuzzFeed News. “My first customers were off Twitter. Now I am just scared to tweet from my business account; I am scared that they will harass me. It’s scarier because you can’t predict their next line of actions,” she continued.

Adding to her frustration is the fact that Jolaoso, who had a network of vendors on Twitter, has had to move her online business operations to other apps like Telegram and Facebook.

But Twitter’s advantages also rest on the safety and community it provides for women and queer folks — both heavily marginalized groups in the country. Somi, a Nigerian nonbinary, trans woman, considers this ban to be a huge detriment.

“Twitter is a place I turned to find friends and community,” said the 19-year-old, who is currently crowdfunding for their medical transition. “To look for advice and encouragement without judgment from the outside world. It was here I [used my voice] and I got all the help I needed.”

For 21-year-old queer liberation activist and writer Ani Kayode Somtochukwu, the potential impact on LGBTQ Nigerians who see social media apps like Twitter to escape is huge.

“For us, social media is not just about convenience in organizing — it is also about safety. We cannot legally gather without being targeted by the law,” he said.

In Nigeria displays of affection with members of the same sex is an offense that carries a 10-year jail term.

Somtochukwu also said that if the ban continues, LGBTQ Nigerians will suffer.

“It will mean the loss of community, the loss of access to sometimes life-saving information, loss of access to help in times of need,” he said.

For Nigerian women, Twitter has been helpful in the fight against inequality and the rising violence perpetrated against them. Campaigns like the Yaba Market March, which sought to fight the culture of groping and sexual harassment, have found their lives on Twitter.

“This has become a space for shared opportunities, a place to call against the violation of our rights, to provide emotional support, etc.,” explained PR consultant and activist Ebele Molua. “We struggle to find an outlet to sustain ourselves in a society that doesn’t care about the human rights and the progressiveness of marginalized groups.”

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