The suspension of Twitter, a leading micro-blogging platform, has begun to take its toll on struggling Nigeria’s economy, leading to a loss of N7.5 Billion in the past three days. Nigeria’s decision to suspend Twitter, at first indefinitely but later temporarily, could backfire for the government and cost the country economically in terms of new investment into its technology sector. The ban may threaten Nigeria’s status as one of the best-performing African countries in attracting investment for technology start-up businesses.
According to NetBlocks, a watchdog organisation that monitors cyber-security and governance of the Internet, each hour of the social media gagging costs Nigeria about $250,000 (N102.5 Million), bringing the daily loss to N2.5 Billion. It means the economy would have lost approximately N7.5 Billion in the past three days.
The suspension has already created a market access gap for millions of small and medium scale enterprises (SMSEs) that use the platform to reach their customers. This could potentially complicate the challenges COVID-19 and other structural defects had imposed on businesses. Also hit is the e-commerce market in the country, estimated at $12 Billion. But within hours of the ban, internet searches for ‘VPNs’ – virtual private networks, which allow users to disguise their online identity and evade country-specific limits, surged across the country. Multiple videos appeared on YouTube explaining the ins and outs of VPNs to Twitter-hungry Nigerians.
Nigerians also have plenty of other digital options to share opinions and information, from the popular WhatsApp to the Indian micro-blogging service, Koo, which has quickly announced plans to expand into the country.
Already, many Nigerians are bypassing the Telcos’ twitter blockade through the use of VPNs, necessitating moves by the Federal Government to engage China on the use of firewalls, according to unconfirmed reports. The Internet firewall is a way of having a separate network for the Nigerian Internet that will give the government control over social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This is similar to the Internet filtering system China operates, called the Great Firewall.
The Federal Government seeks to establish the Nigerian Internet, which it will also control in same manner. The Internet firewall will also give the government power to block VPN, which many Nigerians are using to access Twitter.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Network of NGOs has expressed concerns about the ban on Twitter by the Federal Government. This ban, according to the Nigeria Network of NGOs runs contrary to Mr. President’s commitment to civic space to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) community. According to the body, this recent twist of events will no doubt affect the country’s ratings amongst the comity of nations and would-be investors.
The body noted that as a member of the Community of Democracies, Nigeria has a role to play in demonstrating leadership by respecting the rights of citizens to access and use information.