The suspension of Twitter in Nigeria has continued to cause more financial tolls since it came into effect in June. It has now created a multimillion-dollar downturn affecting various aspects of the country’s economy, which has been struggling throughout the six-year reign of the current administration.
Olusegun Akinfenwa writes for Immigration Advice Service. This is an immigration law firm that offers UK immigration and citizenship guidance to South Africans and other nationals globally.
On 5 June 2021, the federal government of Nigeria announced its plan to ban Twitter from operating in the country over what it termed “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”. This came after Twitter deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari for violating its “abusive behaviour” policy. The suspension took effect the following day, denying millions of people access to the microblogging platform.
Since then, the country has been counting its losses, and the effect could be much costlier than the government handlers envisaged.
A UK firm, Top10VPN, recently estimated that the Twitter shutdown in Nigeria has affected over 104 million internet users and cost the country $415-million as of 13 August. It arrived at the figure using the tool developed by global internet monitor, NetBlocks, and US advocacy nonprofit, Internet Society. A few days after the ban, NetBlocks had reported that Nigeria was losing an estimated $250,000 every hour the shutdown remains in effect, which has so far amounted to over 1,650 hours.
Comparing the economic effects with 18 other countries that have experienced some forms of internet shutdown in 2021, Nigeria is the second most affected, sitting right behind Myanmar, which has suffered over 5,660 days of internet shutdown with a $2.5-billion economic cost.
Twitter represents a major part of Nigerian economic and social lives, as one of the most favoured online platforms for advertisements and networking. Many SMEs, including startups, freelancers, and social media influencers, have built their businesses around the microblogging site as it offers broad and easy coverage and connection with their customers.
For these categories of people who have barely recovered from the economic downturn of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Twitter shutdown has caused a substantial dip in sales. It is also a massive blow for big organisations like telecoms firms, banks, and insurance companies that utilise the platform as a major client base. Some analysts say it could hurt Nigeria’s position as Africa’s leading tech hub and affect its chances to attract foreign investors. This is not good for a country with a low ranking score on the ease of doing business — sitting 131st out of 190 ranked countries.
Nigeria is also suffering its worst unemployment rate in recent memory — one of the factors responsible for its current status as the world’s poverty capital. The shutdown could stand as an impediment in the government’s effort to boost productivity and job creation in the country.
Apart from the financial downturns, the social effects of the ban are also glaring. Twitter offers Nigerian youths a platform to discuss their everyday socio-political realities, such as police brutality and insurgency. It has also been used to summon ambulances, raise funds for the sick, and locate missing persons. With the ban in place, it is now almost impossible for people to continue benefiting from such humanitarian gestures.
Top10VPN reports that VPN demand has increased by 1,409% since the ban, as more Nigerians seek alternative means of accessing the platform after their respective internet providers denied them access following the government’s order. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) allow people to bypass the blockages put in place by telecoms and fake their locations.
But despite the use of VPNs, the social and economic impacts of the ban are still weighty. This is because not everyone can afford or trust a VPN for their internet activities, and VPNs are not that sustainable for e-commerce and social campaigns. It is difficult to determine people’s real locations with VPNs, making it difficult for digital marketers to reach their target audience as their displayed virtual locations could be concealed or spurious.
Meanwhile, the federal government announced on 11 August that it may soon lift the ban as some of the issues it raised with the social media giant have been resolved. However, it remains to be seen how soon the two parties will come to the negotiation table. But with each day passing, the ban detrimentally impacts average Nigerians who use Twitter for business and social engagements. DM/MC