Tue, May

How Nigeria Defeated Twitter In Its Own Game

Tech Security

Twitter has agreed to a raft of conditions to end a seven-month ban in Nigeria, in what feels like a big win for President Muhammadu Buhari's administration in its efforts to regulate the internet, some analysts say. Nigeria - Africa's most populous country - now joins the likes of India, Indonesia and Turkey, which tightly regulate social media companies. This is something other African governments are likely to take note of, as they try to prevent the use of social media for mobilising opposition groups.

Some of the conditions accepted by Twitter have raised concerns about its future operations in Nigeria.

"It is definitely concerning that Twitter may have capitulated to an arrangement that would allow Nigeria to pressure it into decisions it would not otherwise make," David Greene, director at US NGO Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told the BBC.

He said Twitter should have agreed to obey local laws only if they upheld human rights. The agreement gave the government the advantage in enforcing take-down orders and data demands against the company, Mr Greene added.

Twitter has refused to comment on the agreement it made with Nigeria, leaving many frustrated. The company only tweeted that it was "pleased" to be "restored" and "deeply committed to Nigeria".

Twitter has become one of the first digital companies to be brought to heel under a new digital tax law passed in 2020. Earlier this month, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed said that non-resident companies providing digital services would be required to pay 6% tax on their turnover from this year in order to boost public revenue at a time of "emerging fiscal constraints".

Twitter has agreed to pay tax in Nigeria and establish a legal entity in the country, although it is not clear if that means it will open an office or merely register an intermediary. "The difference might be significant with respect to how much pressure Nigeria will be able to exert against Twitter going forward, and Twitter's ability to resist future disproportionate or arbitrary demands from Nigeria," said Mr Greene.

Young Nigerians, especially the digitally savvy, adore Twitter. It is more than a platform, serving as a one-stop-shop for everything - from job openings to a missing person portal, and civic space to hold public officials to account. Twitter made its biggest political impact during the #EndSars demonstrations in 2020 when it became the platform of choice for young demonstrators who forced the president to abolish the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars), a police unit that was notorious for its brutality.

The #EndSars protests morphed into calls for an end to bad governance in Nigeria and President Buhari has said that the protesters wanted to remove him from office. The government blames Twitter for fanning the protests and holds its former boss, Jack Dorsey, who showed support for the protesters, responsible for the destruction that ensued after the demonstrations were hijacked by criminals.