Just over two weeks ago, it was inconceivable; today, it’s the reality: Access to social media site Twitter is officially prohibited in Nigeria. Although the ban was announced a few hours before it was effected, the swiftness and suddenness of the action was as surprising as it was scary.
So, how did we get here? And, what would be the effect of this ban on the technology community?
How we got here: A brief timeline of events
Tuesday June 1, 2021: Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari puts out a controversial tweet referencing the Nigerian civil war. The tweet receives a lot of backlash from Nigerians who eventually report it in droves to Twitter.
Wednesday June 2, 2021: The president’s tweet is taken down by Twitter for “violation” of their terms of service.
Friday June 4, 2021: In a swift reprisal, Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, issues a press release announcing the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, referencing its use “for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
The Minister further announces a new directive that requires the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to “commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria”.
Saturday June 5, 2021: Nigerians wake up to find that in line with the new directives, telecommunication service providers in the country have restricted access to the Twitter on their networks. From this time forward, users have resorted to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in order to continue to access Twitter.
How will the ban impact the Nigerian technology space?
How and why we got to this point has been heavily debated across social and political circles. As with every action with political undertones, it’s no surprise that opinion on the issue seems divided along political lines.
Even as the legality of the action continues to be debated, there’s no denying the ripple effect the ban will have — and is already having — across the nation, particularly within the growing tech community. According to netblocks.org, a company that tracks internet governance, Nigeria will lose an estimated $6 million (2 billion naira) daily due to the ban.
Here, we take a look at some of the expected effects of the Nigerian Twitter ban on Nigeria’s technological space.
#1: Loss of Social Capital
Twitter is first and foremost a social media platform — a place to meet and interact with people outside of your physical relationship circles. For the tech community, though, it’s quickly become a doorway to the wider community beyond Nigeria’s shores. It goes without saying that the free flow of communication it enables presents Nigerians in tech with a wider market for their services.
For digital marketers and social media influencers, this reflects as gigs to promote foreign, local, or multi-national brands; For developers, designers and engineers, it reflects as opportunities to get high paying foreign and local jobs (remote or commuting); And, for techpreneurs, it presents as an opportunity to get new ideas and meet potential new partners and investors.
With the country’s name now associated with yet another unsavory news, Nigerian’s social capital has taken yet another blow. This means that even fewer persons (from an already small number) are willing to deal with Nigerians for fear of what comes next, or for the simple reason that their target market is shrinking.
Perhaps this tweet below puts things in better perspective…
#2: Loss of Investors
For a country looking to improve upon its foreign direct investments, the Twitter ban looks to have been ill thought out. For starters, the abruptness and seeming pettiness of the policy is a signal to investors that their business could suffer at any moment the president’s mood changes. This is a fowl signal that’s sure to keep only the bravest of investors within the Nigerian market.
Sadly, this comes at a time when the FinTech, EdTech, and Health Tech industries in Nigeria are attracting increasing attention from abroad, with foreign investments in this sector fast growing.
It also comes at a time when global tech giants like Twitter and Facebook are looking to set up shop in Africa. With Twitter already favoring a move to Ghana (despite its smaller subscriber base) long before this ban, Silicon Valley’s distrust of Nigeria is only going to grow.
But it’s not just here that investment’s taking a blow. The developers of Nigerian Fintech company Paystack, which broke the headlines after attracting the biggest buyout in Nigerian history ($200 million) last year, famously met the man who’d end up driving that investment on Twitter. There’s no telling how many more developers will be losing out on such deals due to this ban.
#3: Reduced innovation
It goes without saying that markets are fickle and highly reactionary. It also goes without saying that innovation is time consuming and very expensive. As a result, innovators tend to favor more stable markets for their ventures.
As with more recent policies like the abrupt ban of bike ride hailing services in Lagos and the nationwide ban on cryptocurrency trading, the Twitter ban continues a pattern of anti-innovation policies.
These bans on young, fledgling tech sectors, as well as the Twitter ban that was occasioned by pettiness at best, all point to one thing: tech innovation and development in Nigeria is a highly uncertain venture. Any move that angers the nation’s leader, no matter how small, could spell the end for your teething company.
#4: Blow for SMEs
Thanks in no small part to the scarcity of jobs in Nigeria, SMEs have become a major source of income for many households. Many of these have benefitted from the increased digitization of the country, adopting social media as a major marketing tool.
For many, Twitter is an important part of that toolkit, and finding tweets that take advantage of ‘trends’ to promote products/services isn’t uncommon. Perhaps, on this front, Twitter will be glad that the Nigerian government has helped sanitize Twitter NG through its ban, reducing the incidence of spamming.
However, there’s no denying that so many businesses will suffer as a result of the ban. The use of VPNs is alien to many, and many vendors will struggle to make the switch. Even worse, a large part of the target market will be pruned by the ban as they fail to adopt VPN usage.
Unfortunately, this means a lot of SMEs who depend on Twitter as their primary marketing channel will lose a ton of customers, and may end up shutting down. For a nation with over 50% of its labor force either unemployed or underemployed, this is a scary prospect.
Whatever you make of the Twitter ban, the fact that it didn’t need to be ratified by the legislative arm of government, and has received no pushback from Nigerian telecos confirms the country’s move towards a semi-autocratic government where the President’s word is law.
The result is that we simply can’t be certain if or when the ban will be reversed. Until then, the ripple effect of the ban will only continue to grow, creating a massive multiplier effect that may well be felt in other sectors of the economy.