Gbenga Sesan, the executive director of the Paradigm Initiative — a Nigerian digital rights group that filed a court case against the government, arguing that the ban was illegal and violated Nigerians’ rights to free expression — told Rest of World that while he welcomes the end of the ban, he worries that the agreement will give the government more power to control information online.
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“We are concerned that some of the conditions that [the] government claims Twitter agreed to will play into the long-term agenda of clampdown that the government has demonstrated toward citizen rights and the civic space,” Sesan said. “If [the] government is allowed to move on as if this suspension was not illegal, it leaves room for even worse violations — including a possible complete internet shutdown during the 2023 general elections.”
Twitter declined to respond to questions but did not dispute the government’s account of events. A spokesperson sent a statement confirming the company will establish a legal entity in Nigeria. The statement also said that the company would “continue to act with respectful acknowledgement of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history on which such laws have been built.”
The government source told Rest of World that they expect Twitter to set up a compliance office and appoint its local representative by the end of the first quarter of 2022. The agreement means the company will be one of the first companies to begin complying with Nigeria’s new digital tax laws, which were created in 2020 but have not yet been implemented. The government will collect taxes on all Twitter revenue, including ads and subscription revenue, coming from Nigeria. The platform will train government employees, including security staff, on how to report content to moderators.
International observers said they were concerned about the precedent set by the case. Last year, Twitter faced pressure to remove or reinstate political content in India and Russia. The Indian government threatened to ban the platform, while the Russian government throttled the platform for a month, making it almost unusable in the country.
“The Nigerian government’s blocking of Twitter exemplifies the high-stakes battle between governments and tech companies around the world,” Allie Funk, senior research analyst for technology and democracy at Freedom House told Rest of World.
Funk pointed to the trend of governments requiring that social media platforms open local offices and appoint representatives in country, which “puts employees in the crosshairs between the state and the private sector,” she said. Governments can effectively threaten the companies’ local staff to compel platforms to agree to policized demands, creating real threat to free expression and access to information. The Kremlin reportedly threatened to prosecute local employees of Google and Apple, to force them to remove a voting app created by the government’s main political opposition.
“It’s internet users who are paying the price,” Funk said. “By exploiting their role as gatekeepers to a particular market, authorities can pressure companies into agreeing to the government’s own terms of operation.”