Opinion

Collateral Economic Damage Makes Twitter Ban Unsustainable

By Joel Popoola

It was the story of Ogechi Egemonu that really brought home to me the unintended consequences of President Buhari’s Twitter ban.

Like so many the businesses owners in Nigeria, she used to use digital media to reach customers, engage stakeholders and advertise her products. Powered by social media marketing, the entrepreneur’s fashion business used to turnover 500,000 Naira a week.

She is now making next to nothing. “I rely on Twitter for my livelihood” she told Reuters.

Ogechi’s plight puts a human face on the economic collateral damage that makes the Twitter ban unsustainable.

Twitter is where Nigerian businesses advertise and promote themselves.
Twitter is where Nigerian employers advertise job opportunities.
Twitter is where Nigerian start-ups attract investment.

The government may have accused Twitter of “undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence” but this ban is undermining the existence of Nigerian corporations.

As influencer and marketing expert, Alex Oluwatobi has written:

“In Nigeria, Twitter is… our crowd funding community, e-commerce platform, our fact checker and the main CRM tool for most companies. It is some people’s source of livelihood. If the government can’t give Nigerians food, they shouldn’t take our plate”.

Estimates say that Nigeria loses $6m for every day Twitter remains banned – slowing commerce, reducing productivity and ultimately costing jobs. There’s even an argument that the widespread use of VPN’s to get around the ban is slowing down the entire internet!

But the long term is where the real danger lies. The Twitter ban is likely to harm Nigeria’s ability to attract investment to a flourishing digital economy the government has itself recognised as being critical to our national future.

Just last year the government called for foreign investors to support our technology ecosystem – do you think that investors are likely to put their money in a market where the threat of sudden regulatory disruption is always present?

Just look at the decision of Twitter itself to choose Ghana over Nigeria as it’s African base- even though it has more users in Nigerian then there are people in Ghana.

Its statement described Ghana “as a champion for democracy, a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet”.

It’s those sort of nations where investors want to be associated with, and where they feel safe putting their money.

And right now, we look nothing like that. This ban is likely to keep investors away. Global tech companies looking to establish a presence in Africa or invest in our indigenous start-ups with look elsewhere – in particular Ghana, South Africa or Kenya.

In the twenty-first century the both civil society and the global economy will become more and more dependent on individual connections between people made possible by digital technology

That’s why the digital democracy campaign I lead created Rate Your Leader, a free app connecting people and politics.

Rate Your Leader allows users to identify local leaders and to connect directly with them – raising issues and concerns person to person, and allowing communities to collaborate to make local areas better and helping politicians understand what matters most to the people who elect them.

It also aids accessibility. At a time when the government has shut down an important channel of communication between electors and elected Rate Your Leader allows people to put questions directly to local leaders. Rate Your Leader also lets local people rate politicians for accessibility, transparency and honesty – building trust in both politicians and political institutions.

And we need to build bridges, not walls – especially between generations. The government has recognized the need for our economy to diversify. Nigerian youth have risen to the challenge by self-teaching themselves Java, PHP, and Javascript, with data from Google indicating that 32% of Nigerian IT professionals are self-taught. As a result, global consulting giants Accenture recently projected that Nigeria will be Africa’s largest internet-based economy come 2025.

Now that generation finds a government prepared to deliberately damage Nigeria’s digital economy – as well as removing access to a platform that 18% of them use to look for work at a time when youth employment is running at 45%.

There is no question that the Twitter ban is unconstitutional. But the government must realise- and fast – that it is also economically unsustainable.

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and founder of the Rate Your Leader app. He can be reached via @JOPopoola

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