After a seven-month blackout, which was punctuated by suspense and rumours of the resolution, the Twitter ban came to an end in the early hours of January 13. The estranged parties had functioned as though the microblogging site won’t yield to the expectations of either side. But the targets of the ban never backed down in their place of mischief; these citizens rushed to install VPN to pour out their anger at the government. It’s an irreparable public relations disaster for Nigeria.
What the hasty suspension achieved, sadly, is silencing the pro-government voices on Twitter and creating an echo chamber in which the government no longer has dignified or official defenders. Those who came up with the idea must’ve believed that the ban would hurt everyday citizens, but the main victims are the politicians whose operations inspired a series of damaging propaganda and with no “legal” excuse to fire back at their critics. Twitter was never down in Nigeria, what was missing in the past seven months were the vuvuzelas of the government.
This was why the most mischievous voices on Twitter thanked the forthcoming general elections, instead of some convenient agreements dispensed only by one party, for the suspension. They saw through their politicians and held that the decision was a response to the storm of politicking already gathering, and it would be a self-sabotaging position for the politicians to take part in the elections without their mouthpieces active in the imminent chaos.
The government’s claim that Twitter has agreed to its terms, including registering as a tax-paying entity in the country, has also left a section of Nigerians sceptical. There’s nothing from Silicon Valley to establish the veracity of the claims. Because it takes just a few minutes to have a business registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, one is obliged to ask why the government didn’t wait to have Twitter registered or more other clauses in the agreement implemented before lifting the ban.
Perhaps the most contentious clause in the purported agreement is the claim that Twitter has offered the government “a direct channel for government officials and Twitter staff to manage prohibited content that violates Twitter community rules.” This was reported as evidence that the company has granted the Nigerian government backend access to delete citizens’ tweets. It’s a dumb piece of propaganda, especially because Twitter’s terms of service still maintain that they “reserve the right to remove Content that violates the User Agreement, including for example, copyright or trademark violations or other intellectual property misappropriation, impersonation, unlawful conduct, or harassment.”
Twitter has not said it won’t take down a threatening tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari’s handle after this resolution. Its abusive behaviour policy, which warranted censoring Buhari’s tweet last June, is still in place. The social media giant’s official statement on the suspension neither confirms nor denies the agreements shared, only that its “mission in Nigeria & around the world, is to serve the public conversation (sic).” And that “We are deeply committed to Nigeria, where Twitter is used by people for commerce, cultural engagement, and civic participation.”
Nigerian government’s desire to have a less toxic space for conversations around the cost of political power in a country moonwalking on the brink of anarchy is noble, but, curiously, toxic exchanges became infrequent when the pro-government voices began to obey the suspension order. What the government doesn’t seem to have figured out is that the irresponsible communications that triggered the Twitter ban are worse in places it has ignored. The volumes of divisive and inciting utterances in our places of worship, for instance, are “bannable” activities but the political cost of doing so has never been lost on the policymakers.
Since their return to Twitter, President Buhari’s cheerleaders have been on a mission to explain their patriotism to those who disobeyed the infamous circular from Aso Rock—and despite the threats of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to have those who circumvented the ban arrested. But loyalty to one’s government isn’t the same as to the country. It’s blind loyalty to the government that bred the Adolf Hitlers of this world, and the reverse produced virtuous characters like Martin Luther King, Jr. The Nigerian habit of confusing sycophancy with patriotism is a symptom of a dysfunctional education system. Patriotism, as over-flogged on this page, is loving one’s country more than the politicians managing it—as the Kings and the Mahatma Gandhis did.
So, endorsing a government’s tyrannical decisions and pronouncements is participating in the violations of the country. A patriot’s job, therefore, isn’t to hastily comply with blatant crackdowns on the most basic human rights. It’s to defend constitutionally sanctioned freedoms and protect the country from the government. Whichever sentiment one favours I defining patriotism, another election year is staring us in the face and so are the tough choices for 2023.