In describing tech in Nigeria, Jake Brunch for Tech Crunch wrote: “Nigeria has become a magnet for venture capital, a hotbed for startup formation and a strategic entry point for Silicon Valley.” In 2019, Techpoint Africa reported that startups in Nigeria raised nearly $400 million, more than double the amount from the previous year. As of 2020, Africa was said to have one of the world’s fastest growing tech markets and Nigeria, its unofficial capital. As of January, 2021, Nigeria reportedly had 90 tech hubs – the most on the continent. So far, Nigeria has been among the best-performing African countries in attracting investments for technology start-up businesses.
Tech, in Nigeria, sprouted at the time where we needed it the most: there were talks about building a ‘cashless’ economy; Nigerians were beginning to tap into global markets; remote gigs became very popular and many people were getting jobs beyond the shores of the country and continent; e-commerce became very common and people needed to shop from the comfort of their homes. As a matter of fact, the current e-commerce spending in Nigeria is estimated at $12 billion, and is projected to reach $75 billion in revenues per annum by 2025. It was time for young Nigerians to grab the ‘digital bull’ by its horns. And they did. With the use of technology, ‘techpreneurs’ keep providing life-changing solutions to everyday problems.
But this is being threatened.
In recent times, the federal and state governments, via policies, seem to be waging war against the country’s economy, and the livelihood of many Nigerians. From the okada ban in Lagos to the cryptocurrency ban and now the recent ban on Twitter, there seem to be a disconnect between the government and the economic realities of the country. For a country whose economy hasn’t recovered from the effects of the pandemic, one would expect the government to thread carefully when making decisions that would affect the people’s livelihood and the country’s economy.
When the pandemic started, the World Bank asserted that Nigeria’s economy may be headed toward the worst financial state the country has seen in four decades. They were not wrong. Findings indicate that total GDP fell 23% during the lockdown, people lost their jobs, prices of goods and services shot up. UNICEF predicted that famine looms in Nigeria among other countries, and over 800,000 children in northeast Nigeria were expected to suffer from acute malnutrition, with nearly 300,000 of severe acute malnutrition at imminent risk of death.
While COVID-19 was an unforeseen, barely-controllable circumstance, the ban of Twitter is one of the many ways the Nigerian government is sabotaging its economy, creating an economic apocalypse, and plunging more people into poverty. Tech, in Nigeria, is such a big deal, and in trying to hurt the tech companies with the hope that they realise that the Nigerian government is not one to be messed with, the federal government may just be setting the economy up for failure.
NetBlocks, a data-driven web application that tracks internet governance, estimated that Nigeria loses $250,000 every hour and a total of $6,000,000,000 since the Twitter ban. Many businesses have been halted, people are losing international gigs, SMEs, e-commerce businesses and digital media have experienced setbacks. The ban of Twitter has cut productivity and ultimately cost jobs, and if it’s not lifted, the longterm effects will be dire. About 20% – which is 40,000,000 – Nigerians were estimated to be on Twitter before the ban, many of whom have connected to potential employers, gotten international clients, reached out to investors, gotten scholarships, crowdfunded for healthcare, and so on. The federal government has not only failed in creating jobs and better employment opportunities for young Nigerians, but it is also taking away their means of livelihood.
The world has become a global village, and technology has brought people from all walks of life closer. In banning Twitter – which is one of the most used apps for engagement and connection for Nigerians – the government is alienating the citizens from the rest of the world, and cutting them off opportunities that await them beyond the shores of Nigeria and Africa. From poor infrastructure to poor road networks, lack of electricity and water, over-the-top-expensive food items, there are too many things hampering the development of the average Nigerian youth and now, the ban of Twitter has joined the list.
The federal government may claim that the ban of Twitter is necessary in fostering Nigeria’s corporate existence, but in their usual manner, they have chopped off the head in a bid to cure a headache – an ailment that is of their own creation. In truth, the government’s real problem with Twitter is its status as the most prominent tool for civic pillory of the government’s underperformance, ineptitude, and incompetency. The potential that social media could help mobilise such a large, youth-driven protest movement sent shudders throughout the ruling establishment. In stifling the voices of the people, the government is not only going against the constitution, but is also sending a signal to international tech companies that they are not welcome in Nigeria, and they are not welcome to employ Nigerians. Imagine working for an international company as a community manager, an advertising agent, or a social media management when your government is clamping down on social media.
This year, Twitter set up its headquarters in Ghana because “Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate.” In banning Twitter, the government has given the signal that they do not promote free speech and can clamp down on businesses at any time. This action will gravely harm our ability to attract investors to this very promising digital economy as no one wants to invest in a country with inconsistent and unpredictable policies.
Nigeria’s economy and even government have become increasingly reliant on digital media, and with the ban on Twitter, the government has taken the wheel and driven the country’s digital space backward. In being autocratic, the Nigerian government is hampering economic productivity, and destroying our already-fragile democratic institutions.
We have shot ourselves in the foot, and it is time for the government to place the country first before its brittle ego.