Lifting the ban on Twitter: a triumph for patriotism and national security – By: .

By Dahiru Lawal

“If there is no enemy within, the enemy without can do us no harm” – African proverb

When on June 4, 2021, the federal government announced the suspension of operations of Twitter after the social media giant deleted a post by President Muhammadu Buhari for “violation of the company’s abusive behavior policy”, some Nigerians n not only failed to understand why the decision was made, they used strong words to condemn it, showing a lack of patriotism.

Many immediately began the process of circumventing a national proclamation, resorting to virtual private networks (VPNs) to access behind walls. This echo chamber has undoubtedly created a prospect for more interference from abroad.

But it was not the first time that Twitter had a confrontation with sovereign powers. In 2019, the governments of China, Iran, North Korea, and Turkmenistan blocked access to Twitter. In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Twitter users are prohibited from tweeting content contrary to public morals and the principles of this country.

Similarly, Turkey blocked access to Twitter in March 2014 ahead of local elections. He lifted the Twitter ban after the social networking site complied with his request to remove photographs of a murdered Istanbul prosecutor.

While it is easy to glorify these movements as repressive, the birthplace of free speech, the United States, is also guilty of the same. In September 2020, the Trump administration banned TikTok and WeChat in China from mobile app stores. Administration officials said it was necessary to protect national security and prevent Beijing from exploiting the apps to collect user data or spread propaganda.

Although the Biden administration lifted the ban in June 2021, it included caveats that impose accountability measures that TikTok currently does not have, including a “trusted third-party audit” of the app for possible security risk. It turned out that for every country, no matter how glorious, the national interest trumps both internal and external usurpation.

It is one of the most vulnerable times in the history of the world. At some point, the coordination and mobilization of the Internet community becomes a very powerful weapon for disruptive convergence; at some point, dissidents evolve from lobbyists to more daring and murderous actors who challenge civility, undermine authority, invade sanctity and inflame nationality.

In an article I wrote in January last year, Between Nigeria’s EndSARS and US Capitol Insurrection, I pointed out that the situation is “creating new momentum for citizen agitations aimed at redressing grievances and one can bet that every nation has its fair share of ups and downs, but national pride has always been the defining point between citizen patriotism and betrayal”.

We may not be going through the best of times, but in cases where we find ourselves on the brink, opening our doors to prying “sabi it all” actors is a trajectory that is sure to damage our budding honor. Acts of interference and the expression of diplomatic acumen are not a game of who cares most about the welfare of a country’s citizens, but a game of self-interest in which only the intelligent hold the ace.

The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has released a detailed public statement on what happened before the suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria was lifted. As we continue to hold our authorities to account in our own way, Nigerians must learn to defend their country in times like this.

Twitter’s compliance with FG’s terms before the ban was lifted proves in no doubt that drastic times require uncommon decisions. Complying with our own laws, being legally registered with the CAC, paying taxes, filtering out inflammatory content, fake news and hate speech, setting up local offices and employing Nigerians are huge benefits that were worth the 7 months waiting.

Citizens who used VON to hurl words at the FG are bound to benefit from the outcome of the same act they desecrated. It is indeed a triumph of patriotism, national interest and national security. It is a solemn reminder that we have our own particularities which must be guided by our own values, we do not need the dictates of outside interests to determine and shape our journey.

While applauding citizens who are always meticulous about balancing their bias and the national interest, I must reiterate the need for all of us to beware of allowing malicious actors to sow division and amplify conspiracy theories against our nationality. Disruptive insurgencies against authority are coordinated on social media. This, again, brings the debate over freedom of expression to the fore.

On Twitter being banned, yes, we had a very long and excruciating wait, but there is no denying that the gains incurred far outweigh the deaths experienced. We have the decision of this singular federal government to thank for that.

Dahiru, coordinator of the Network of Advocates for Digital Reporting (NADIR) writes from Kano.

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