Government, Twitter silent as ban clocks two months

• Losses to economy rise to N152b as SMEs migrate to other platforms • They are talking, says source
• Experts want investment in local messaging app • Koo targets Q4 for Nigerian registration, ready to pay taxes
• CSO condemns Koo for using Buhari to advertise app

There appears to be no truce yet between the Federal Government and management of popular micro-blogging platform, Twitter, over the latter’s ban in Nigeria. The ban enters its second month today.

The Federal Government had announced the suspension of Twitter operations in the country on June 4, after the social media giant deleted a post by President Muhammadu Buhari for “violation of the company’s abusive behaviour policy.”

By June 5, the suspension was effected by telecommunications companies as Nigerians woke up to a Twitter shutdown across all platforms.

This sparked serious row between the two entities, and impacted businesses, especially small and medium scale enterprises that continue to lose billions of naira daily to the suspension.

Three weeks after, on June 22, the President set up a committee consisting of five ministers to negotiate with Twitter. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was appointed as head of the committee, which included Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister for Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN); Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN) and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).

With dark cloud surrounding the planned meeting as there has not been any form of communication to the public from either side, there is anxiety in the country that six weeks after the announced composition of a government delegation, there might be no meeting that would lead to a possible truce after all.

But a presidency source in one of the ministries told The Guardian, yesterday, that the two sides are talking. “I can authoritatively inform you that right now, the two sides are communicating. It is not as quiet as you imagine. Of course, it might be off the radar for now, but they are in touch. As soon as they want anything in public, people will hear.”

However, response from Twitter on the matter was yet to come as at press time.
MEANWHILE, as the public awaits a possible truce, losses to the Nigerian economy continue to soar. In an earlier news report of July 15, The Guardian, relying on digital report 2021 by Hootsuite, a social media and marketing dashboard, had established that there were fewer users of Twitter in the country as against the purported huge number, which were being targeted by FG for possible tax earnings.

Hootsuite informed that Twitter’s potential advertising audience compared to the total population aged 13 plus in Nigeria is 2.4 per cent, while quarter-on-quarter change in Twitter’s advertising reach is 17.3 per cent. The implication of this is that Twitter’s penetration in the country is still very low compared to other platforms. Analytically, it means that it is unlikely these 3.05 million-advert audience would be impacted by the American company.

Against this backdrop, checks by The Guardian showed that within the last 61 days of the ban, accruable losses to the Nigerian economy is in excess of N152.5 billion.

NetBlocks, a watchdog organisation that monitors cybersecurity and governance of the Internet, said each hour of the suspension costs Nigeria $250,000 (N102.5 million), bringing the daily loss to N2.46 billion. Invariably, it means the economy would have lost over N152.5 billion in the last two months.

Despite its ban in Nigeria, Twitter’s second quarter report, showed improved performance. In its released earnings report for the second quarter (Q2), Twitter declared total revenue of $1.19 billion.

Compared to the $683 million that was posted in Q2 2020, Twitter’s revenue grew by 74 per cent, showing a remarkable bounce back from the harsh economic effects of the COVID-19.

The United States remains its strongest market with a 79 per cent increase in revenue year-on-year to $653 million. Japan is still its second-largest market and it grew by 40 per cent in the quarter. The revenue from Japan amounts to $151 million, which is 13 per cent of the entire revenue for the quarter. In the third quarter (Q3), the company expects to see revenue of $1.22 billion to $1.30 billion. This is more than the $1.17 billion that analysts are predicting, according to Refinitiv.

WHILE the losses to SME operators and users in Nigeria continue to soar, India’s rival micro-blogging app, Koo, on Tuesday disclosed plans to formally register in Nigeria.

The app became popular in June when the FG suspended Twitter operations in the country and embraced Koo, signing up on the platform and encouraging Nigerians, public and private institutions to join in.

Koo’s popularity subsequently surged as the official Federal Government social media platforms stopped tweeting and migrated to Koo. Top government functionaries, presidential aides, agencies, and other pro-government individuals also took to Koo.

During a virtual interaction with journalists, on Tuesday, the Business Development Consultant to Koo, Sameer Yeshwanth, said they believe the social media platform would be the first to be registered in Nigeria formally. Yeshwanth said, by registering, Koo would pay taxes as required and comply with all the laws of the land. He noted: “We have already hired four staff according to the Federal Character Laws of Nigeria.

The Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Aprameya Radhakrishna, said the innovation that brought Koo was borne out of the need to ensure freedom of expression across board. He said the product would be customised to meet needs, as people can easily get connected to their respective languages.

Radhakrishna disclosed that Nigeria is the first country outside India that Koo has moved to and, in the last two months, has seen about 200,000 downloads.

The CEO said the firm is doing everything possible to give Nigeria and Nigerians the best of service. According to him, “We hope to register by next quarter. We are moving steadily on how to go about our international operations. What we are doing now is to get all that we need ready, then full operations begin.”

He explained that part of the service is to ensure that local Nigerian languages including Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, pidgin, Tiv, Fulfulde and others with large populations feature on the platform.

In furtherance of its newfound affinity with the country, Koo recently featured President Buhari on its social media advert page for Nigeria. In what appears to be the President becoming a special brand ambassador to the medium, Koo placed Buhari’s image on its social media advert with the app promising to provide “exclusive updates from him only on Koo App.”

Within days of the Twitter ban, Koo was available on Apple and Google’s app stores and job openings were posted on LinkedIn searching for local language speakers.

The advertorial of Buhari as the face of Koo in Nigeria was condemned by civil society organisation, Center for Democracy and Development (CDD).

“It’s a shame the #TwitterBan has persisted till now, despite the economic disaster it has proven to be for youths who depend on #Twitter for their livelihoods. For obvious reasons, we find this ad by #Koo, another microblogging platform, both immoral and distasteful,” CDD tweeted on Sunday.

Commenting on the ban, the Chairman, Mobile Software Solution, Chris Uwaje, said it is instructive to acknowledge that this struggle between Twitter and Nigeria is a fight between the Creator Enterprise and the Consumer Nation.

Uwaje said currently, Nigerians all over the world, including government officials are still consuming the product and solutions of/from the Twitter platform, directly and indirectly.

“The corner stones of the issues are two. First, revenue, and secondly, freedom of speech. Of the two, the Nigerian Government is justified to demand that Twitter is registered in Nigeria as a business concern and pay tax to government.

“On issue two, government cannot win a digital platform battle owned by the creator. The best she can do is to empower Nigerian software eggheads to develop a country platform messaging system focused on Africa and the global market. Any other mission amounts to a waste of time and resources. Finally, content from Twitter can be and is indeed shared via other platforms such as FB, WhatsApp. LinkedIn, emails, Instagram and many more. Nigeria should compete in the digital knowledge Olympiad rather than nosing around the globe.”

On his part, the Nigerian Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, said it appears there has been no significant progress regarding Twitter’s status in the country, as most users of the platform appear to have found a way to access the app or have decided to move onto other platforms.

Teniola said FG needs to update the nation and its citizens on what they wish to do and if and when they wish to seek to resolve their issue with Twitter. “This appears to be the only way forward. Continuous dialogue and communication is vital to engage citizens,” he stated.x

According to him, there are many applications available to Nigerians on the World Wide Web. He said each individual is entitled to use whatever app they feel that meets their needs.

“The accessibility, affordability and availability of the Internet provides the power to change lives in a positive way, so this has provided many platforms on offer to a consumer. Twitter is just one of them and so is Koo,” he stated.

On the integrity issue of FG pushing for Koo, which has not formally registered in the country, and the appropriateness of the app using President Buhari to advertise its product, a legal practitioner, Ayoola Oke, with expertise in telecommunications, said website does not legally need to be registered in a particular country before people in the country or any other part of the world can access it.

Oke, a principal partner, Ayoola Babatunde Oke & Co, said there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and ordinarily anybody in the world that has access to the Internet can access any of them from anywhere in the world.

According to him, a country that wants to tap into the advantage of this Information Age and the economic, financial and commercial benefits, should be encouraging its citizens to add their own digital footprint to the information super highway. He explained that social media platforms are basically websites that operate in digital space and not analogue space limited by boundaries.

In other words, he said they do not really operate in a country in a physical analogue sense, except if they chose to have an administrative presence based on exigencies of operations.

“They access and operate in cyber space and people from all countries of the world connect to them in cyberspace. To the best of my knowledge cyber space is a virtual space that has no nationality except that access to cyberspace would be through a cyber gateway that may have its gateway equipment and servers domiciled in its country of origin. It is like an air flight that does not touch ground in any other country,” he stressed.

There are, however, worries the Indian app may in the future run into the same troubled waters Twitter found itself with the Federal Government.

Koo recently published its second compliance report for the month of July 2021, as mandated by Rule 4(d) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, by the Indian government.

The report revealed that it had removed 498 Koos reported by its community; in June, the company had taken down as many as 1,253 Koos. Koos are posts that users upload on the platform along the lines of tweets for Twitter.

The company did not elaborate on the nature of these complaints. “Rule 4(d) of the IT Rules, 2021, specify that Significant Social Media Intermediaries (who have more than five million users) must publish periodic compliance report every month, mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken thereon, and the number of specific communication links or parts of information that the intermediary has removed or disabled access to in pursuance of any proactive monitoring.”

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