When on October 14, 2020, I saw the tweet of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey “Donate via #Bitcoin to help #EndSARS”, I knew I was going to get into trouble with the Nigerian authorities. No government in the world would have offered a blow to him for inviting donations to a movement that shook the foundations of his power.
From the perspective of the Nigerian government, the founder of the technology giant had helped escalate the country’s internal crisis by exploiting its enormous global reach to call for funds for protesters, who sang not only “EndSARS” but also “Buhari must go “on the streets of Lagos. There are a million and one respectable ways for a government to react, but the current Nigerian government has not found one.
So when on June 2, Twitter deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari referring to the 1960s civil war in southeastern Nigeria and threatening violence, the response of the Nigerian authorities was swift. On June 4, the information ministry announced that it was suspending the social networking platform in the country.
Make no mistake: Buhari’s deleted tweet was the climax – not the trigger – of the Nigerian government’s anger with Twitter. His real problem with the platform is its status as the most important tool for the civic slating of the subjugated Buhari government. This went to the head during the #EndSARS protest, probably Nigeria’s most organic protest in its recent history.
Of course, this protest could not have happened without Twitter. It was the platform on which victims of police brutality shared their suffering by the men in black of the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Team (SARS). Having spent days in a police cell and in prison under me, I knew that most of these stories were true.
In early October 2020, news of SARS officials harassing Nigerian youths and, in one case, killing a young man, spread trend on Twitter and caused outrage across the country. This has sparked a continuous spread of similar experiences shared by the victims, which has angered the public and prompted many to take to the streets to demand the dissolution of SARS.
The biggest open secret in Nigeria over the protest was that the government associated bandits to attack protesters and infiltrate and discredit their movement. It is recalled that State agents have invested a lot of effort to cover up the dead and wounded from the October 20 military raid that led to the protest movement.
Eight months after the end of the demonstrations, Twitter remains the only platform where these events are revisited sporadically, sometimes on the 20th day of the month but several times for no specific reason. Twitter remains a thorn in the flesh of the Nigerian government, the only lasting land of remembrance for the blood that was shed at Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos on October 20, 2020.
Speaking shortly after Twitter deleted Buhari’s tweet, Information Minister Lai Mohammed accused the social media platform of “funding #EndSARS protesters”. He also criticized Twitter for its failure to remove incendiary tweets from Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Secessionist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who calls for the creation of an independent state (Biafra) in southeastern Nigeria.
But Mohammed ignored the fact that Buhari’s tweet was massively reported by the public. Moreover, the tweets inciting Kanu’s secession are nothing compared to the weight of a president threatening citizens with the treatment he provided during a civil war remembered for the recent genocide by people in southeastern Nigeria.
The Buhari government exists – supposedly – on the mandate of the people; Kanu exists because of government failures. Therefore, both parties cannot be accused of the same levels of responsibility to the public. That this government cannot see the divisiveness of Buhari’s tweet is quite disturbing.
As far as IPOB is concerned, it is a problem done by itself. Twitter only serves as the amplifier of growing complaints. Many of those who reported Buhari’s offensive tweet have no sympathy for IPOB, but are concerned about the government’s obsession with Kanu and its people to the detriment of more flagrant and devastating threats to Nigeria’s existence. .
In 2017, the Buhari government led the army to declare IPOB a “militant terrorist group” in violation of the country’s Terrorism Law, which stipulates that only a judge can make this statement, before acting in accordance with the law. Four years later, it has not even had the courage to declare pastoralist militant communities as terrorist groups, despite its designation in 2015 by the Global Terrorism Index as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world. the world after Boko Haram, ISIS and al-Shabab.
Just a few days ago, militants killed at least 25 people and raided houses, shops and a palace in a town in southwestern Nigeria, but they are also terrorists because of Buhari’s apparent prejudice against pastoralists, being one himself. Bandits terrorize Northern Nigeria; since December, they have kidnapped close to a thousand people and their unofficial spokesman Sheikh Abubakar Gumi often blurred his image in the media. Yet, for the Nigerian government, the killers and kidnappers are not terrorists.
Minister Mohammed’s assertion that Twitter has become a platform for “activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence” is unbelievable. The biggest threat to Nigeria is the lack of inspiring governance.
Nigerians are hungry. The naira continues to weaken. The purchasing power of people decreases. Unemployment bites. Quality health is lacking. Shepherds, bandits and militants kill people with impunity.
Solve these problems and watch Kanu disappear into the darkness. No one will listen to him if they eat on his table. No one will join the June 12 demonstrations, which some militant groups are calling for to protest the Twitter ban, if they were to be healthy and profitably employed. June 12 is a significant day in the history of Nigeria because it was the date of Nigeria’s most free and fair elections, held in 1993. The result was overturned by the dictatorial regime of Ibrahim Babangida.
Good governance is the ultimate secret to ensure the corporate existence of Nigeria. Twitter, which Buhari used in 2015 to call on Nigerians to condemn the failure of Jonathan’s government, cannot suddenly hit the ground running in 2021. It should not be dismissed by the people who currently use it to criticize his shortcomings – unless, of course, he says we can count the remaining two years of his tenure as an accelerated jet.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.