When the Nigerian government called off the ban on Twitter in January after keeping the site blocked off in the country for just over 7 months, the social media giant had, by all accounts, rolled over.
However, curiously, Twitter stayed noncommittal throughout and new findings suggest the talks of Twitter caving in may have been an exaggeration, ostensibly from a noticeably unpopular and highhanded entity looking to assert itself.
Government officials reiterated time and again that Twitter, which had been banned in the country in June last year (just two days after deleting a tweet by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari which had incendiary overtones), had agreed to comply with a raft of demands, triggering the lifting of the ban.
But, parts of an earlier established whistleblower account which has now become public suggest the Nigerian government either made false claims or enriched its statements pertaining to the lifting of the ban.
Nigerian government officials had in several statements created the impression that Twitter had agreed to do its bidding after protracted negotiations. At least one communication from the National Information Technology Development Agency, issued by its Director-General Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, had it that Twitter will create “a legal entity in Nigeria’s capital Abuja during the first quarter of 2022,” and that the company has “agreed to comply with applicable tax obligations on its operations under Nigerian law.”
Twitter will also “enrol Nigeria in its Partner Support and Law Enforcement Portals,” which gives police tools to request and retain data on users, the statement added.
Contrary to these claims, Twitter’s former security chief who had previously spoken to Congress in September and shined the light on alleged misdeeds lapses at Twitter including suspicious ties to government authorities in India, Russia, and China, stated in revelations that surfaced recently that the Nigerian government made false claims about the conditions of lifting the ban and Twitter seemed okay with looking the other way for unclear reasons.
Twitter knowingly allowed itself to be infiltrated by, or otherwise a tool of, many governments. pic.twitter.com/E3IKtwaPKC
— Avid Halaby (@AvidHalaby) December 12, 2022
These were some of the concerning revelations from Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, a respected cybersecurity expert and Twitter whistleblower who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to lay out his allegations against the company.
“The Nigerian government blocked Twitter in June 2021, then falsely claimed to be in negotiations with Twitter executives; Twitter’s failure to correct the false record on many reported non-existent discussions with the Nigerian government permitted Nigeria to negotiate unilaterally through the media and dictate unfavourable terms for final resolution,” the whistleblower shared in a written statement that is making the rounds in light of the ongoing controversial “Twitter Files” exposé, curiously supported by Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk.
“Twitter’s deliberate decision to refrain from correcting misinformation about Twitter’s proposed negotiations with the Nigerian government directly harmed Twitter shareholders. Permitting the Nigerian government to impose various conditions on the platform harmed the free expression rights and democratic accountability for Nigerian citizens,” Mudge emphasised.
To date, Twitter has neither confirmed nor denied the claims made by the Nigerian government throughout that period, opting for an evasive diplomatic tone that made sure not to acknowledge any specific agreements but only maintained its commitment to serving the public conversation across commerce, cultural engagement, and civic participation.
There were concerns that Twitter had elected to cosy up to a government with a questionable record on matters of dissent and rights to freedom of expression, potentially endangering its estimated 3 million users in the country.
Twitter’s influential role in shaping social discourse and solidifying scene-shifting movements like #EndSARS and #BringBankOurGirls is well established in Nigeria, often to the displeasure of government authorities with a penchant for muzzling. Hence, the purported agreements with the Nigerian government seemed like a blow to conscious society.
Nevertheless, the latest whistleblower revelations, coupled with the fact that barring an industry-wide new tax regime and basic CAC registration none of the purported critical concessions mentioned by the Nigerian government has materialised as of yet, is indicative of possible exaggeration or outright misrepresentation. That Twitter has remained tightlipped on the matter and the extent to which this impacts its level of complicity or culpability is the stuff of debate.
Twitter would, in fact, eventually go on to launch an office in Africa following an announcement last April, but it chose Ghana to host its headquarters on the continent – an outpost that has itself been ripped apart and is now in limbo following the job cuts triggered by Musk after the takeover.
It remains to be seen what steps the Buhari-led administration might take if and when they mean to get full compliance from Twitter based on the concessions they claimed was in the bag, and this matter is likely to remain up in the air for the foreseeable future or perhaps fizzle out ultimately with a new government expected to come into power following general elections scheduled for February next year.
Featured Image Credits: SaifDaily