That’s “good morning” in Igbo
During Nigeria’s civil war (1967-1970), the Igbos suffered the heaviest casualties. According to some estimates, more than 2 million of them lost their lives.
The civil war remains an unhealed wound in Nigerian history, to this day, some scholars still clamour for what happened to the Igbos to be classified as genocide.
In recent months, there has been civil unrest in Igbo land that has been blamed on regional separatists. This prompted President Muhammed Buhari to give a speech where he referenced the war and threatened to deal with them in:
“a language they’ll understand”.
The speech was transcribed and posted on Pres. Buhari’s Twitter handle. But Twitter took it down
, stating that it was:
“in violation of the Twitter Rules".
This infuriated government officials and on Friday, the country’s minister of information announced the restriction of Twitter access throughout the country, ironically, via a tweet.
It’s been coming
Pres. Buhari’s message was also posted on his Facebook account, but Facebook didn’t suffer the same fate as Twitter.
It is, however, important to note that the statement mentioned that all social media sites and over-the-top (OTT) platforms will soon be regulated.
There’s a plausible explanation for Twitter being singled out first, Dorsey’s support
of the #EndSARS protests and Nigeria’s minister of information having to field uncomfortable questions
about why Twitter chose Accra over Lagos for its new offices probably meant that this was Twitter’s third strike.
But zooming out, Nigeria’s president vs. Twitter is the intersection of three trendlines:
Local touchpoints: I’ve written about how Twitter’s new Accra office is more about timeline curation and content moderation than anything else. Shortly after taking down Buhari’s tweet, Twitter also deleted a tweet from a popular Igbo separatist leader, thus, indicating some level of understanding of the local context. On its end, Facebook is set to open an office in Lagos later this year.
Self-regulation: Twitter and Facebook both suspended Pres. Donald Trump in January, indicating that no one was above their policies, not even sitting presidents.
Government regulation: Politicians around the world took note. However, in Nigeria where a deeply unpopular social media bill had hit a brick wall and the country’s information minister was constantly lamenting about how social media was “destroying” the country, they weren’t just taking notes, they were getting ready to take action.
How low can you go?
Governments shutting down access to social media sites isn’t uncommon in Africa. This year alone, there have been reports of disruptions in DRC, Senegal, Chad and Uganda.
And do you know the reason that’s given for almost all of these disruptions? Political unrest and democratic stability.
about how social media companies citing similar reasons in banning Trump had handed some African politicians the perfect alibi.
However, what makes Nigeria’s Twitter suspension remarkable is that it is purely punitive, there is no veneer of protecting stability. It’s just a straight tit-for-tat, or gbas-gbos as we say in Nigeria.
This gives us the first indication of how some of the continent’s political leaders could react if what happened to Pres. Buhari’s social media account happens to theirs.