More than two weeks after it suspended Twitter’s operations in Nigeria, the Muhammadu Buhari administration is set for talks with the social media company — and all the big guns will be at the table.
The government has put together a strong squad to engage Twitter, which includes six ministers from five of the six geopolitical zones — one shy of the federal character principle.
Those on the team include six ministers namely Lai Mohammed (information and culture), its chairman; Abubakar Malami (justice); Babatunde Fashola (works and housing); Isa Pantami (communications and digital economy); Geoffrey Onyeama (foreign affairs); Festus Keyamo (labour and employment (state).
And the list goes on.-`
There is also room for “other relevant government agencies” on the delegation which Segun Adeyemi, Mohammed’s spokesperson, said was constituted after Twitter wrote President Buhari over the suspension “with a view to charting a path forward”.
WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT UP TO?
Adeyemi was silent on the specific demands the government will be making, but the composition of the team all but confirmed the government’s intention to go all out on the issue.
The ban of Twitter — which has about 40 million users in Nigeria — appears to many as a springboard upon which the government intends to send a strong message to other social networks about its desire to regulate whatever is said and done on the platforms.
With such prominence given to the social network and the deployed army of top officials, the government may have inadvertently elevated the proposed dialogue with the microblogging site to the level of bilateral talks between two countries.
What is more? The delegation features three senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and it’s not immediately known if there will be a representative from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Also, the average age of the delegation is 57.3, suggesting the government could be overlooking the youth — a vital component of the civic space and the presidency’s social media team.
TAKING A CUE FROM CHINA
With more than 700 million Chinese nationals online, the number of internet users in China is four times the entire population of Nigeria. But the Chinese government has been able to restrict information flow to a firewall which it uses to monitor the internet.
The jury is still out on whether Nigeria under Buhari is heading that way.
Since its inception in 2015, the Buhari administration has not minced words about wanting to control social media and what happens on it. Although a previous social media bill was heavily criticised, much of its objectives are now back on the discussion table.
In October 2020, while he was speaking with federal lawmakers, Lai had said the government should take a cue from China and “dominate” Nigeria’s cyberspace.
According to the minister, “if you go to China, you cannot get Google, Facebook or Instagram but you can only use your email because they have made sure that it is regulated”.
Given Lai’s well-known stance on social media “domination” and “regulation”, coupled with the deployment of top ministers to the negotiating table with Twitter, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is; what does the government have up its sleeve?