The Herald on Sunday

Ego-bruised president infuriates the nation with complete ban on Twitter


IMAGINE waking up one morning to find that the government had turned off Twitter.

No bad thing, I can imagine some of you saying, but then that’s not the way most Nigerians see it after president Muhammadu Buhari decided earlier this month to do just that partly because his ego was bruised but also, as rights activists, say to silence dissent.

The blackout came two days after Twitter deleted a Tweet by Buhari, insisting the post violated its policy against abusive behaviour.

In the offending Tweet, Buhari, a former army general who led troops during the country’s civil war in the late-1960s, had threatened to crack down on young people from the southeast agitating for greater recognitio­n and secession. Buhari pulled no punches in his post, stating that he would “treat those misbehavin­g today in a language they understand”.

In a country wracked by recent protests marked by police brutality, Buhari’s tweet was incendiary, and his subsequent ban has only further angered many Nigerians in one of Africa’s most populous countries.

Twitter in Nigeria is huge, with many people depending on it to promote their businesses and selling their wares. In short, it has facilitate­d the ease of doing business. It especially has a massive, interconne­cted youth population with some of the most engaged Twitter users in Africa. But the main motive behind Buhari’s ban, say observers, is more sinister.

“The real reason for the ban, of course, is to silence a citizenry that found, through social media, an unfettered speech and a way to hold the leadership accountabl­e through screenshot­s, quote tweets, replies, satire, mockery, and humour,” observed Kola Tubosun, a Nigerian, author and linguist writing in Foreign Policy magazine recently.

Amid increasing insecurity and unemployme­nt, and with many government officials older and less internet-savvy, the country’s youth have utilised the platform as a searing political weapon. Buhari, it would appear, is only one of many very jittery about its potential to undermine his rule and authority.

So far, Nigeria’s government has resisted calls to restore Twitter access from rights groups and foreign government­s, including the US.

But equally the ban has been met with more rebellion with users finding ways to bypass it, often using virtual private networks (VPNs) and remaining a thorn in Buhari’s side. It is very much a story of our times and a yet another reminder of politics played out in a digital age.

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