Nigeria’s decision to suspend Twitter indefinitely, for whatever reason, could backfire on the government and cost the country in all ramifications possible. Over the past 5 years, Nigeria has been among the best performing African Countries in attracting foreign investments in manpower, funding and high technology. Nigeria has raised business Unicorns through its investments and the reason is nothing more than the perception of Nigeria as a champion for democracy, a supporter of free speech and online freedom; but now that does not seem to be the case and it is threatening the Country’s status.
The impact of this ban is deeper than what meets the eye. It is, indeed, the beginning of the fall of the first powerful domino which will push other dominos to the ground.
THE DEATH OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND POLITICAL RIGHTS
Though it has been made clear that the percentage of Nigerians that have access to twitter and other social media platforms is small, this small proportion represents a major percentage of the population. This shutdown only portrays this government in a worse light than they have been seen in. One of the political rights of citizens is freedom of speech. Twitter has been a mode of this freedom for Nigerians both within the country and in the diaspora. Shutting it down reflects the country to be not as democratic as it seems to be. This is risky for the country as the international community has moved from standing on the fence as regards dictatorships and democracies.
As a mode of communication, the ban of twitter excludes Nigerians from political and global conversations in the international community. While the effect of this may not be obvious, it takes the knowledge and exposure of Nigerians, especially the youths a few years backwards.
THE DECREASE IN BUSINESS VISIBILITY AND PATRONAGE
The vibrancy businesses enjoy across the globe can be premised on the use of social media and Nigerian businesses are not exempted from this. Business owners (SMEs, B2B, B2C) operating in various sectors serving both local and international markets have been able to gain visibility, increase awareness and build a brand personality by leveraging the power of social media.
With the Twitter ban, the damage to the business sector can be significant and harm its ability for increased and sustainable entrepreneurship. The bulging youth population are the vast majority of entrepreneurs galvanizing into viable ventures and scaling the uptrend of e-commerce consequently, reducing unemployment. SMEs in Nigeria contribute 48% of national GDP and according to statista, 61% of 28 million Nigerians use Twitter with these businesses leveraging social media for activities such as marketing, customer service, acquisition, retention and risk being cut off from potential markets.
Furthermore, the Nigerian business landscape holds a positive outlook as a major driver of economic growth, integration and an increasing value chain for the advancement of the country.
DECLINED ACCESS TO INFORMATION AND LIBERATION
In the words of Kofi Annan “knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”. Information is foundational to knowledge hence; information may be said to be directly proportional to power. The Oxford learners’ dictionary describes communication “as the activity of expressing ideas and feelings or giving people information”. In other words, communication is the process of giving people knowledge, liberation and ultimately, power. A restriction to information sharing or access is tantamount to restriction to knowledge and liberation.
Social media is a powerful communication tool with a wider audience and immediate access to information and knowledge. It is also about building relationships (global), community – giving people the opportunity to be heard. According to Statista, in 2020 the number of social media users in Nigeria reached about 28 million with WhatsApp ranking the most popular (93%) and Twitter the 6th (61.4%) during the 3rd quarter of 2020 with users in the age group of between 16 and 64 years. 17 million Nigerian social media users used Twitter in the 3rd quarter of 2020. An enabling environment for easy and immediate access to information equips that environment with knowledge of its surroundings, health, risks, opportunities and the global community. A Twitter ban would mean denying access to useful information, health tips, job opportunities, local and global awareness to the 17 million Nigerian social media users.
CURTAILING INVESTOR CONFIDENCE
Asides the event setback the twitter ban has placed in businesses in Nigeria, there are also general implications on the Nigerian economy – some obvious and some not too evident.
Nigeria is ranked among the top African countries when it comes to attracting investments for startups in the tech space. In 2020 alone (despite the pandemic), Nigerian startups raised over 17% of the over $1 billion funds raised by African startups. It is worthy of note to also mention that the country remains Africa’s number one investment destination by deal count. All of these have been made possible due to the thriving and growing tech ecosystem as well as the brand perception of the country’s potential in the sector. There is no telling as to how the ban on twitter will begin to cast doubts on the minds of investors who may begin to turn towards other markets within the continent. The issue of regulation disruptions is a critical pull or push factor for a growing digital economy.
According to NetBlocks, it has been estimated that each day, the ban on twitter costs the Nigerian economy over 2 billion naira ($6 million).
Again, we can only measure the real costs going forward with respect to obvious losses. The less obvious would play out with time as other major economic players in the digital economy across the continent positions themselves as more ‘policy stable’ and better destinations for investment.
We have so many issues in the country to deal with, such as insecurity, unemployment, hunger, lack of basic amenities, etc., to begin to tarnish the good things we have going for us. Yes, Twitter might have been in the wrong to delete a post by the President but the punishment outweighs the crime.
The suspension of Twitter sends the wrong signal to foreign investors and the diaspora which invariably would cause investor confidence to weaken, and there’d be a negative impact on remittances, investments, entrepreneurship, and the general development of the country.
As the world keeps waiting to see how the events in the incoming weeks or months unfold, it is imperative that the government critically considers the human rights aspect of the issue to avoid more legal suits such as the recent one at the ECOWAS court which was filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a local rights group, along with 176 other Nigerians. For a country that ranks 120 on the current press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, total clamp down on social media (Twitter) does not help to restore our democratic image in this regard.