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OPINION: Fighting A Losing War With Twitter By Dr Dakuku Peterside

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It began with a tweet on June 1, 2021, from President Muhammadu Buhari’s handle @MBuhari. He reprimanded angry youths “misbehaving” and alluded to his role in the civil war promising to treat secessionists “in the language they understand”. This tweet was followed by public outcry and condemnation because many considered it repulsive, and some deem it a call for genocide. As a result, pulled down the specific tweet and video, and the FG banned in Nigeria indefinitely and called for other

Reacting to these seeming contradictions and lack of neutrality, the Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, complained that Twitter condones worse tweets from IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu. This comparison demeans the Nigerian President’s office. How can he compare tweets from the President with that of a secessionist leader known for uncouth language, acerbic words, and temper tantrums? 

The announcement that the FG has banned Twitter indefinitely took many Nigerians by surprise, and it seems in many quarters that it is not a well thought out response, and the federal government may have taken on a battle it can never win. The reasons for this view are manifold.

The first reason is that the speed and context of the Twitter ban by FG smirk of hasty and jerky reaction and retaliatory action against an organisation upholding the dictates of its policies. The reasons proffered by the FG at best are conjectural  and unrelated to the issues at hand. Misinformation and spread of fake which may have affected national  security  as claimed by Some of the president’s handlers would not fly as the reason for the ban if the ban came only a few days after Twitter pulled down the President’s tweet. People are wise to

Fourthly, President Buhari is not the first president to have a face-off with Twitter. Donald Trump, the former US President, was utterly banned from Twitter and other social media for almost two years. As Twitter has become powerful, so have the users become vulnerable to the dictates of the owners and managers. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, have become two of the most powerful men in the world. So, when Twitter decided to suspend the account of Donald Trump after the January 6, 2021 insurrection whereby his supporters stormed the US Capitol, it caused severe reverberations. It meant that a private company could clip the wings of a sitting US President, widely regarded as the most powerful man in the world. 

The fifth reason is that Nigeria does not want to be among countries that banned Twitter and other social media. China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Turkmenistan, Nigeria. These countries are the list of countries where Twitter is banned. How can Nigeria be listed with other widely accepted countries that stifle free speech, discourage dissent, and abuse human rights? These countries do not have democratic values and profile ,and are not countries Nigeria should be proud to be linked together. 

The sixth reason is that social media is an outlet for people, especially young people, to express themselves and vent their anger. Imagine the amount of frustration young people will go through when they get cut off from the global social world they link with through social media. Any parent of young people can testify to how attached young ones are to their social media, and most of the information they get is from social media. Young people inhabit this virtual reality bubble created by social media to the extent that some are addicted to it and may struggle to clearly distinguish  between digital reality and social reality. Young people may rebel against any ban on social media. 

Moreover, I am not sure that we have the technical capacity to shut down social media over the internet. How can we make laws or rules that we cannot enforce? Even if we can implement this ban, why waste resources that should solve a panoply of other pressing needs confronting Nigeria? 

FG seems to be acting desperately and, therefore, may be making more mistakes. Remember that Mubarak and Ghadaffi tried to ban social media during the Arab spring but failed. Banning media is an antiquated technique and adopts a standard military approach which cannot work in a democracy. 

I think the President’s tweet should not have been posted in the first instance by his Twitter handlers. His media handlers should have seen to that. The President’s handlers should have ensured that his anger and frustrations over the breakdown of law and order in the country and the acute security challenges that threaten to dismember the country are not in the public dormain. There is a measure of diplomacy expected in the President’s public statements. Governments worldwide spend millions of dollars on Public Relations consultants whose primary duty is to give the government an acceptable image to the public. 

However, after posting the tweet and the backlash ensued, which culminated in the removal of the tweet by Twitter, the government should have learnt her lessons and ensured that any tweet coming from the President’s handle goes through greater scrutiny. Maybe they should have interrogated the President’s social media management team. Instead, suspending Twitter in the country adds more fuel to the fire and depicts the government as dictatorial.

There was some rumpus when Twitter announced setting up her African office in Ghana some months ago. However, many people had expected them to set up shop in Nigeria as the country offers more significant opportunities than Ghana. With this development, the decision of Twitter to snub Nigeria would be seen as a wise move as they would have been more susceptible to government sanction if their offices were in Nigeria. 

Social media has become an essential tool in the everyday lives of many Nigerians. It is a symbol of free speech and a vital ingredient for democratic rule and governance. The issue of regulation of social media is a matter for another day . The current administration is a beneficiary of social media as it used it extensively in the arduous battle to unseat the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-led government in 2015.

This ban  has economic consequences and may damage Nigeria profoundly by creating loss of jobs for our teeming youths in the digital marketing sector, rob off negatively on Nigeria’s image abroad, negatively batter foreign investors’ confidence in Nigeria, dampen our democratic antecedents, widen the communication gap between the FG and the people, and may lead to international embarrassment  and hostile public diplomacy.

In summary, by banning Twitter, we will be hurting our economy more and the federal government risks sending the message that we are back to the old days of military dictatorship, during which the free press was usually the first target. Moreover, it risks undermining the assertion by the President’s supporters that he has fully transformed from a military man to a democrat, that the current administration is different from the time the President took power as a soldier via a coup d’état in 1984. There are many ways the government can address the unfortunate removal of the President’s tweet or even our security challenges But, unfortunately, banning Twitter in the country is not one of them. 

uncover the hidden reason, and many felt it was not the whole truth and is disingenuous of the FG to pull such a stunt.    

The second reason is that people are suspicious of any fight against the media, which often they interpret as an attempt to muffle their freedom of speech and expression in a country practising constitutional democracy. On the contrary, Twitter and platforms like it create a public sphere for expressing divergent views by all. It is a marketplace for ideas and counter ideas, often competing for relevance and acceptance. Everyone with a smartphone and mobile data could air his views on local, national, and international issues, mobilise and fight for a course, and assess and learn about current events. Therefore, a complete ban on Twitter may be seen by many as an affront to their fundamental liberty.

The ban immediately brought to peoples’ mind the draconian decree 4 of 1984 that curtailed freedom of speech for journalists and public commentators. This decree promulgated during the military  regime of Gen. Mohammadu Buhari, and any assault on the media forces people to reminisce on those days. 

The third reason is that the FG cannot afford to engage in a war with international media, especially at this auspicious time. Insecurity, banditry, poor economy, and secessionist agitations have negatively affected Nigeria’s image locally and internationally. We need international media as our friends rather than foes. Banning Twitter sends a wrong signal that FG is applying undue high-handedness in dealing with domestic issues. Opposition and non-state actors will milk this to prove that the FG is persecuting them for contrary views, and the FG is anti-people. Other international media (social and traditional) may likely come together to portray the FG in a bad light internationally. We should avoid this at all costs, especially given our current impasse. We cannot multiply the war front. 

social media restrictions. Like other actions of any leader, the ban has been received with mixed reactions.

It is understandable while the President should be irritated with the country’s security situation, especially regarding the South-Eastern part of the country. Since the turn of the year, attacks by “unknown gunmen” have led to the death of scores of policemen, army personnel as well as other security agents. In addition, many public institutions, especially police stations and offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission, have been razed by the hoodlums in the South-East. 

The Nigerian Police has linked the attacks to the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), a secessionist group that seeks to restore the defunct State of Biafra. The group, led by Nnamdi Kanu, is believed by security agencies to have embarked on an arms struggle.

On social media, Nigerians trended the #IAmIgboToo hashtag to express their displeasure over the President’s statement. In addition, Nigerian Twitter users from different ethnic groups also adopted Igbo names to show their solidarity with the Igbo people. 

What followed was the removal of the tweet by Twitter. Twitter policy on hateful conduct prohibits tweets that “promote violence or threaten” people based on “race, ethnicity, national origin.” So, the tech company deletes such tweets, or Twitter compels users to “remove the violating content.”

Though some may believe that Twitter removed the tweets as it felt it violated its policy, I must point out that it has not always been neutral in dealing with Nigeria. For example, during the #EndSARS protests of last year, Twitter allegedly encouraged the protest by a nauseous promotion of the #EndSARS hashtag and advised the protesters on alternative ways of raising funds through cryptocurrencies to bypass the clampdown on accounts funding the protests by the Nigerian Central Bank.

Governance

NDDC Boss, a Promise Keeper, says UNIUYO VC

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The Vice Chancellor of the University of Uyo, Professor Nyakudo Ndaeyo, has described the Interim Administrator/CEO of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Mr. Efiong Okon Akwa, as a promise keeper for ensuring that the long-abandoned 1000-bed NDDC hostel would soon be completed.

Professor Ndaeyo made this declaration when Mr. Akwa paid him a courtesy visit at UNIUYO Senate Chambers, as part of an inspection of the hostel project in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital.

The Vice Chancellor disclosed that he had extracted the promise from the NDDC boss to complete the project shortly after his appointment as Head of the interventionist agency.

Professor Ndaeyo thanked the NDDC for assisting the university to ease the pressure of accommodation, stressing the need to provide the university’s undergraduates with a conducive learning and living environment in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Akwa, who was accompanied by the state director of the Commission, Mr. Obot Udoette, and directors of the Commission, stated that the hostel, sited at the permanent site of the University, will be completed and commissioned next month.

He said that the NDDC’s commitment to the completion of the students’ hostel project was a result of a directive from President Muhammadu Buhari to the Commission to ensure the completion of all its projects in the Niger Delta region.

He said: “The 1,000 bed students’ hostel being built will be a first of its kind in the region. It will have 500 bed spaces for male undergraduates and 500 bed spaces for female undergraduates and will include recreational spaces as well.”

He stated that the university was playing a very important role in the economy and lives of the people of Akwa Ibom State and the South-South region.

The NDDC boss observed that in an era of Covid-19 pandemic, it was necessary to assist universities to properly accommodate students in order to ensure adequate provision for social distancing in the hostels.

Speaking after inspecting the hostel project, the NDDC boss assured that the Commission would assist universities in the region to ensure that their students undertake their studies in comfortable and safe environment.

Akwa expressed delight that the project had reached 95 per cent completion, with only external works and landscaping still being worked on.

He added: “We need to pull out our students from the surrounding villages where they currently reside and host them in a conducive environment fit for learning.”

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Fara Dagogo’s bill seeking 13% derivation to be paid directly to host communities bill first reading

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A bill seeking to alter the Constitution of the country to pay the 13% derivation fund directly to oil producing host communities has passed first reading on the floor of the House of Representatives.

If passed into law, the 13% derivation fund will be paid directly to the host communities of each benefiting states through the Host Communities Development Commissions.

Sponsor of the bill, Hon. Doctor Farah, Member representing Degema/ Bonny Federal Constituency from Rivers State, said the bill ‘Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Amendment) Bill, 2021 (HB. 1570)’, is intended to address and correct the injustices the oil producing communities have been experiencing.

In demonstrating its seriousness, a section of the bill recommended that ‘ failure of any state to establish the Host Communities Development Commission shall be deemed as an offence and such a state shall forfeit 30% of her monthly benefit from the 13% derivation fund till such a time that the Commission is established’

Before the presentation of the bill, the Federal Lawmaker had accused the Governors of the Niger Delta states, of wasting N10 trillion from the derivation fund over the years

“This is a very sad commentary as it relates to the oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta. The 13 per cent Derivation is the fund set aside to assist oil-producing communities to tackle infrastructural decay and degradation, emphasis on the oil-producing communities. What it means basically is that in sharing the federation account revenue, 13 per cent should be set aside to assist the development of these oil-producing communities.

” About two decades down the line what is there to show for the humongous monies that have come in? The Governors, past and present, view it as free monies”, he said.

“Between 2000 and 2018, over N10trillion from the 13 per cent derivation principle, have been shared to the Niger Delta Governors, on behalf of the oil-producing communities, yet the deplorable living conditions of the people from these oil-producing communities have remained nauseating and deplorable with the people battling and still reeking with the worst and highest form of poverty, “he noted.

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