|Thursday, June 10, 2021|
s shocking as President Buhari’s suspension of twitter operation in Nigeria on June 4 might be, it didn’t surprise most Nigerians who continue to suffer under the crushing weight of his dictatorial tendencies. This ban, however, is a significant escalation of the war against social media and the suppression of free speech in Nigeria by the current leadership in Nigeria. It harms Nigeria’s democracy and undermines Nigeria’s civil society. The timing of this ban is also significant. It came less than three days after twitter had deleted President Buhari’s tweet where he threatened to unleash violence on the Igbo youth of South-East Nigeria who are agitating for self-rule.
The ban on social media has become a tool in the hand of many repressive governments in Africa in Uganda, Niger, Congo, and Ethiopia. It is often deployed against citizens who seek to hold their government to account for misrule or human rights violation. In some other instances, some African governments issue such bans to hide atrocities being committed by government forces against innocent citizens or to undermine the will of the people through the rigging of elections and political intimidations.
President Buhari is also playing the same script. However, this war against twitter, many suspect, is a subtle attempt to disrupt the ongoing national mobilization of the young people and civil society through social media for a national protest planned for June 12, Nigeria’s Democracy Day.
Most Nigerians remember June 12, 1993 as the day Nigeria conducted the most free and fair presidential elections in the country. Sadly, for some inexplicable reasons, the military annulled that election, and entrenched themselves in power, setting off a series of events that nearly brought Nigeria close to a second civil war. Thousands of Nigerians lost their lives that year defending democracy against the military.
The Nigerian government is afraid of any national protest this June 12 which might be greater in scale than last year’s ENDSARS protests against police brutality.
As a former military general, who toppled a democratic government in Nigeria in 1983, President Buhari who transitioned into a civilian president has not shed his military dictatorial streak. He has never hidden his dislike for the free press, social media, peaceful protests and opposition against his government. He rarely communicates with Nigerians and has never given a press conference in over two years. Even during the worst wave of the pandemic in Nigeria in 2020, President Buhari never spoke to the pains of the people, rather he chose to communicate to the nation through tweets, and press statements.
His opponents accuse him of being an angry and vengeful leader, who has reopened all the wounds in Nigeria’s history, worsened the division in the country, and is now associated with the worst fears of Nigerians.
When he speaks to the nation, it is usually through threats and orders spewed in anger and insensitive and bone-chilling warnings.
Nigeria’s problem is not that citizens are using twitter to undermine ‘Nigeria’s corporate existence’ as the government claims. The problem of Nigeria, as foremost African novelist, Chinua Achebe, said many years ago is leadership. Nigeria is convulsing today because of a corrupt and unpatriotic elite and the architecture of violence of the state against her people.
Nigeria’s ex-military men who have controlled the levers of power in Nigeria for close to four decades, and their civilian and religious acolytes have run Nigeria’s economy aground by siphoning and mismanaging Nigeria’s oil wealth. They have frustrated the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians through extractive and authoritarian leadership, and exploited Nigeria’s ethnic and religious diversity for their own selfish political ends.
Nigerians are suffering from grinding poverty in spite of the nation’s enormous oil wealth as the 6th largest oil producing country in the world. More than 70% of Nigerians live in poverty. Afrobarometer’s 2020 report shows that close to 30% of Nigerians skip at least one meal a day because of poverty and this same percentage of people have no access to healthcare. It is not surprising that this pandemic has pushed most Nigerians further into despair, and devastated Nigeria’s economy.
The reason many Nigerians will be marching on June 12 against this government is because it has failed the basic leadership test of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians. Nigerians are living in fear of kidnappers, Islamists, murderers and assassins who attack schools, farms, highways and houses of worship.
Nigeria is now rated 13th in the 2021 Fragile States Index with rising number of internally displaced persons (IDP), religious and ethnic factionalization, human rights abuses, and absence of due process in government and a near breakdown of law and order.
As former American Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campell wrote recently, Nigeria now ‘resembles an archipelago of islands in a sea of ungoverned spaces.’ Nigeria, he argues, has become a very weak state, and is on the verge of becoming a failed state.
Sadly, rather than healing the nation and waging a war on terrorism, hunger, disunity, unemployment, and insecurity in the land, President Buhari has turned against his country men and women and has started a needless turf war with twitter, hurting Nigeria’s economy, scaring foreign investors, and damaging the standing of Nigeria in the comity of nations.