By Ogbuagu Anikwe
“Keen presidency watchers know that Nigeria’s twitter ban is sweet revenge for the President Muhammadu Buhari regime”.
The Presidency has been looking for ways to stop Nigerians from using the social media to critique the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari. The major challenge for the regime’s media handlers is that the administration has found it difficult to convince the general public that it is doing its best to solve the problems it inherited.
Major-General Buhari was elected President on the promise of halting a dangerous slide in the economy. He promised to end insurgency that defied a military solution in the North East. And he was presented to voters as the anti-corruption fighter par excellence. His body language alone, it was said, will solve problems which defied every regime, including corruption which is becoming a way of life in Nigeria.
The promises resonated with the people and he was given a mandate – twice – to right the wrongs and make Nigeria an achieving nation.
From his third year in office, however, it became clear that the government was struggling to keep these major promises. Rather than curb the uprising in the North East, insecurity and violence escaped and have overtaken every part of the country. Today, the government is not only kept busy with Boko Haram’s deadly attacks but also with large-scale, indiscriminate kidnapping and banditry. Added to this are the problems of cattle herders as they bulldoze through and destroy farmlands and as they themselves suffer from menace of rustlers.
The regime’s inability to help the economy grow and helplessness in halting massive corruption in the system has made it impossible for productivity to rise in Nigeria. Unemployment is now at double digits, same as inflation.
Inevitably, these failings became the staple of social media conversations. In a bid to still the tidal wave of negative commentaries, government first began to toy with the idea of floating a Social Media Bill. Among its many recommendations, those who write comments adjudged injurious to public persons will be fined, jailed or face both fine and jail.
Twitter in particular became a hated medium for the regime during the #EndSARS protests against police brutality in the country. Twitter was the hub for messaging by the organisers of the protests. In recognition of their efforts, the micro blogging site not only created a special emoji for the protests but its chief executive, Jack Dorsey, also donated to one of the front row groups.
Tweeter’s decision to delete President Buhari’s threat message became an opportunity for the regime to strike back. For one thing, every action taken so far has been limited to Twitter, notwithstanding that a bigger player, Facebook, also deleted the threat.
The swiftness of government’s response – from condemnation to ban and enforcement – indicates that this may be a crisis management plan being executed; with Twitter as its first target. How far the government can go with this, how well it will fare with this, and how all of this will go to consolidate a wobbly legacy remains to be seen.
*Ogbuagu, former Commissioner for Information, Enugu State, is Executive Consultant to Enugu Metro.