Twitter, Nigeria Face-off: No to this war!

A raging war is gradually unfolding. It is not the war against insurgency that most of us are used to.
It is a disheartening confrontation between Nigeria and Twitter that is obviously assuming a global dimension; a confrontation between Nigeria, which represents a chip of the old bloc, and a new world that is increasingly communications driven.

No one is safe from the intense signals that are being transmitted by the search engines of the social media. These signals which carry loads of information and communication that are accessible at the touch of a button or keyboard are everywhere – in our homes, in our offices and places of relaxation.

These search engines have become part of a new world that is heavily reliant on information; a world that is in search of new ways of thinking; new ways of expression; and new ways of doing business. There is the impact of science and technology too. Technology is basically taking centre space and dictating  a new world information and communications order that is increasingly turning our world by the day into a global village.

Barriers which militated against the flow of information yesterday are being overcome as the influence of information technology extends the frontiers of information sharing and information utilization. When Mustapha Masmoudi, a Tunisian Information Minister and others engaged in discussions that they hoped would forge a new information and communications order under the watchful eyes of the Sean MacBride Commission, they could only see the danger that the imbalance in the flow of information of the seventies and the eighties orchestrated by transnational media organs posed to the developing nations.

They thought that in dealing with imbalances which exist, getting the world to recognize the many flaws that are associated with the flow of information, they were trying to cultivate a world in which there would be greater collaboration and cooperation as a result of an even greater level of understanding and the democratization of information.

It is possible that  these scholars and experts who tried to midwife a new world information and communications order may not have taken cognizance of the fact that the transnational media would some day in the new world fight for relevance and survival in the face of a more deviant social tool known as the social media.

The social media has no boundaries, no regard for national laws and conventions and apparently no limitations in terms of who should use it. It has become a propaganda tool, an economic tool, an educational tool, a technological tool, a developmental tool and a source of cyber crime.

Whereas the mass media created room for the emergence of gate keepers who decide what is healthy to put out in the interest of society, skilled communicators who understand the limits imposed by law and the impact of the spoken or written word on the rest of us, this is not certainly the case on the social media . On the social media, we have all become encoders and decoders of streams of messages that are spinning off key boards of computers and even

To a large extent, as the notion of a mass culture evolves, this trend pioneered by engineering is gradually leading to the evolution of new codes of behaviour; new attitudes that are driving the global quest for the promotion of rights and basic freedoms; and helping in so many ways to reshape relationships, understanding, collaboration and cooperation.

On Tuesday, June 1, 2021, Twitter yanked off a statement credited to the Nigerian President after it was flagged and dubbed offensive. That statement made reference to the Nigerian Civil War fought within a 30-month period. It referred to the consequences of war – the wanton destruction that was experienced, the bloodletting which transpired and the many lives that were lost. This aspect of the presidential statement considered offensive was graphic. It drew widespread attention and sparked off reactions.

It was not Twitter which chose to target Nigeria. Nigerians and non Nigerians alike flagged Twitter, complaining of the statement credited to the Nigerian President. Twitter’s reaction when it came was shocking, at least from the point of view of the Nigerian authorities. But for the micro-blogging organization which had put President Donald Trump , former President of the United States on hold, it was a matter of policy to maintain decorum and decency in the way users of its channels communicate.

The implication is that Twitter agreed with the concerns expressed by those who raised their voices against the comments credited to President Muhammadu Buhari. On Thursday evening, Nigeria retaliated. It suspended the operations of Twitter and said henceforth, groups like Twitter would have to comply with certain regulations (registration) in order to operate.

Ever since, the situation has not been the same. The United States and some of its allies have come out to criticize the Nigerian government. Prominent Nigerians, including the major opposition party, the PDP, have dismissed the action of the Federal Government, saying what is playing out are signs of a fascist and dictatorial state.

Those anxious to adapt to this new way of life, particularly in the developing world are not as equipped with communication skills. They do not understand the impact that communication has on national security, national unity, national stability and public health. They are like kids gifted with toys that contain a ticking bomb. They would probably not know what hit them when the toys in their hands explode.

Nigeria  was right to raise serious eyebrows. The country is in the midst of an internal crisis spearheaded by acts of insurrection in the North East and the South East. Nigeria was right to explain that Twitter’s operations may be helping to undermine its long term interests. It was right to even issue warnings to non conformists whose actions are capable of leading to the breakdown of law and order. Those are not actions which alienate countries from the rest of the world, especially when there are concerns over national sovereignty.

Nigeria would have been right if it stepped up the level of its communications in an effort to explain those naughty issues that were not understood after the President spoke. Nigeria’s information managers and diplomats would have been right, if they engaged directly with these communications giants whose platforms may be unwittingly used by the nation’s enemies, to explain its point of view. It may take time to earn results, but it could have helped greatly in convincing those who may be willing to understand.

It was not totally right on the part of Nigeria to wield the big stick against Twitter. There are doves and there are hawks in every government. It is certain that the hawks had their way this time. I woke up in the morning and stared at my phone. I noticed when I opened the phone that my Twitter account was still active. I wondered how the Federal Government would jam the transmissions of Twitter and wondered how the NCC would go about this task.

I asked myself if this war against Twitter is necessary. My journalistic mind kept saying no. I asked if the Federal Government was doing the right thing in exposing itself to bad press and international isolation as a result of the Twitter ban. Again my answer no. I asked if Twitter has a right to allow its platforms to be used for undermining the unity of the Nigerian federation. The answer was a no, no.

Twitter needs to understand that the disintegration of Nigeria poses a huge threat to the West African sub region and the African continent as a whole because of the grave humanitarian crisis that shall occur. It must consider the fact that without a home and a country for over 200 million people, the huge market that Nigeria is would be gone.

Nigeria is truly going through challenging times. It needs the support of the international community to defeat insurgents and extremist Islamic groups and avert an implosion. To stay afloat, Nigeria needs to keep persuading its friends instead of allowing its voice to be drowned by anger.

Besides, Nigeria is a democracy and those who are slamming Nigeria are not unaware of this fact. So, they are relying on the right to free expression as a bait to bash Nigeria. They say to the bargain that they have evidence of dictatorial tendencies exhibited by the administration and project claims of growing intolerance which might lead to ethnic cleansing.

Twitter has reportedly deleted a recent tweet by Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB. That action was taken after it dealt with the purported offence of the Ngr. President. This is perhaps an attempt by Twitter to ensure that its policies and guidelines work for the benefit of all. Angry as Nigeria may be, the gesture by the information giant in responding to some of the concerns that Nigeria has expressed could provide the ground for Nigeria to reconsider its position.

Nobody wins against the media. Nobody wins against the people and no government should ever allow the media and the people to become part of its problems. Most strong rulers have tried having a fight. It hasn’t usually gone down well. Nixon did against the mass media, he went down. Trump tried against the mass media and the social media managers, he too went down. Buhari has no need to try. It won’t end well.

While the country concentrates on tackling its external woes, there is nothing as excellent as a government enjoying positive public opinion at home. Governments at all levels must make sure that they cultivate a good image and build bridges of cooperation with those they lead.  The first step would be in changing the slant of communication.

In trying to convert the Nigerian leader into a strong man and an ethnic warlord instead of a nationalistic and patriotic leader , a huge mistake was made by gatekeepers who saw the President’s statement. These media aides had a duty to ensure that the administration did not overreact. They owed a duty to responsibly explain the comments to all who could have misunderstood him. They failed

For the future, Nigeria must invest in the communications sector. We need to invest properly in technology. The new world is growing spiders in human form on the Web who spin all kinds of webs. We need to grow ours as well in order to protect what we have and who we are. Systems that have very little regard for effective communications policies suffer a great deal. They suffer humiliation and drawbacks such as we have at this time.

We may have many voices, but what we have is a nation. Tongues and tribes may differ but we can stand in brotherhood. We need a stream of positive communications and a sound communication policy. I once told this fact to a Nigerian leader many years ago and it still necessary  to repeat as I conclude this piece that it is absolutely costly not to invest in a viable communications policy. What we have now may not be coherent and in tune with the demands of a new world which sees communication as a fundamental right.

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