Now that Twitter is back

LAST week, after seven months, the Federal Government lifted the suspension it placed on the operations of the American microblogging and social networking site, Twitter, in Nigeria. Announcing its resolution in a statement signed by the Chairman, Technical Committee, Nigeria-Twitter Engagement and Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Abdullahi, the government indicated that the action followed a memo written to the president by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Professor Isa Pantami, wherein the minister requested President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval to lift the ban following the recommendations of the Technical Committee.

Reacting to the development in a message on its public policy account, Twitter expressed delight at the restoration of its services in Nigeria. It said: “We are pleased that Twitter has been restored for everyone in Nigeria. Our mission in Nigeria and around the world is to serve public conversation.” With the suspension of the ban, the relationship between Twitter and the government seems to have returned to normal. However, it behooves Nigerians as a people and the Nigerian government to do an analysis of the entire episode with a view to preventing a recurrence of the dispute. The ban placed on Twitter’s operations came after an initial exchange of words between it and the government over the latter’s removal of a controversial tweet made by President Buhari which it considered indecorous, being a “violation of the company’s abusive behaviour policy.” In the Tweet, Buhari was perceived to have threatened violence against Nigerians of Igbo origin. In apparent retaliation on June 4, 2021, the Federal Government suspended Twitter’s operations in the country, citing national security and sovereignty. It specifically alleged that Twitter was being deployed by persons it failed to name for the purpose of undermining “Nigeria’s corporate existence,” which it said was being achieved through the use of the medium for spreading fake news, regardless of its combustible credential of “violent consequences.”

A number of additional punitive measures also indicated that the ban was a vengeful mission and not strictly based on Nigeria’s corporate existence, the spread of fake news, or violent consequences. The government directed broadcasting stations in the country to suspend their “patronage” of Twitter forthwith, claiming that it was “unpatriotic”. It laced its directive with veiled threats of reprisals against violators. Nigerians however believe that vendetta was at the core of its action. The government ignored the fact that Nigerians would lose billions of naira and businesses would be wrecked by its peremptory show of raw power. While the ban subsisted, start-ups suffered tremendously. Economic analysts submitted that in the 222 days that Twitter was officially off the radar of Nigerians, the country lost about N546.5 billion. A breakdown of this figure showed that Nigeria lost N104.02 million ($250,600) every hour, which translated to a daily loss of N2.46 billion.

There are millions of users of Twitter in Nigeria and it serves as an advertising platform for companies and individuals. Hootsuite, a social media and marketing dashboard, had earlier in 2021 said that Twitter possessed a huge advertising community in Nigeria. This and other reasons bordering on human rights violation perceived to have been committed by the government during the period of the ban made the human rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to take it to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court. SERAP asked the court to determine the legal capacity the Nigerian government possessed to undertake such a whimsical suspension of the site. The question that has agitated the minds of Nigerians is this: now that the Federal Government has lifted the suspension on the microblogging site, what did it really gain through the exercise? Certainly, if the ultimate objective was not ego-flexing and the flaunting of raw power, the current agreement between it and Twitter could have been done through the negotiation table with minimal, if any, losses on either side.

By halting the operations of Twitter in Nigeria for seven months regardless of its contributions to the Nigerian economy and the enhancement of its democracy through free speech, the government acted wrongly. It cut off people’s means of sustenance, hobbled economic growth and portrayed the country as a fascist enclave. The charges laid against Twitter read like a mere afterthought. We recall that even before it banned the operations of Twitter usage in Nigeria, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information, had frenetically attempted to clamp down on free speech. Nigerians last saw such exercise of naked power with no regard for human rights or economic sustenance under military rule. No government should be allowed to have this manner of sweeping imperial power in the future. The executive should be curtailed by the legislature in the national interest.

IN CASE YOU MISSED THESE FROM NIGERIAN TRIBUNE


The concessionaires complained of poor cooperation from state governments who mostly delay in meeting their own part of the agreement, for instance in the area of land provision.

Another major challenge they emphasised was the lack of narrow gauge rail lines in and out of the dry ports which they noted was important to make the operation of the ports efficient.

They added that access to funds also remained a major issue even as banks and foreign investors make unreasonable demands for assets and bank bonds before the release of funds.

The concessionaires unanimously stressed the need for the ports being constructed to be given the status of port of origin and destination and also to be registered with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) upon completion.

In view of the delay in execution, the concessionaires stressed the need for a new agreement, pointing out that an agreement started in 2017 between them and the NSC but it was yet to be cleared by the Federal Ministry of Justice on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Transportation.

They however commended the ICRC for its intervention and also appreciated the NSC for their support so far, noting that they were confident that under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the contracts will be sorted out.

The concessionaires pledged their commitment to see the concession to conclusion and the ports operational even as two of the concessionaires, Equatorial Marine Oil and Gas Ltd for the Katsina ports and Dala Inland Dry Port for the Kano Ports declared that their ports will commence operation before the third quarter of 2022.

Managing Director of Equatorial Marine Oil and Gas Ltd, Mr Usman Iya Abbas, informed the ICRC team that the Funtua port was already at over 85 per cent completion and was ready to launch before the end of the second quarter of 2022.

“We hope to commission this project before the end of the second quarter and the ports will become functional immediately. We are lucky to have great relationships in the shipping industry and with major shipping lines.

Managing Director, Dala Inland Dry Port Ltd., Hon. Ahmed Rabiu, concessionaires of the Kano Inland Port also hinted that the construction of the container depot was already nearing completion.

He assured that the company was working assiduously to ensure project completion and take off before the end of March 2022.

On his part, ICRC’s Director of Contract Compliance Department, Dr Ewalefoh who chaired the technical session of the meeting assured the concessionaires of the continuous support of the Commission, charging them however to send a detailed update of the contract status reports to the ICRC.

The Ag. Head, Media and Publicity of ICRC, Manji Yarling said he further enjoined the other four concessionaires who were yet to make remarkable progress in their contract execution to emulate the milestone recorded by the other two who were finalizing their constructions, so that the ports can yield the economic benefits for which the concessions were granted.

While thanking the stakeholders for honouring the invitation of the ICRC, it was resolved that going forward, there will be periodic meetings to ensure that the projects are speedily completed.

 

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