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Nnamani, ATCON President, assesses Twitter ban, restoration: Says ‘It goes beyond financial losses’

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Ikechukwu Nnamani, ATCON and twitter ban
Engr. Ikechukwu Nnamani, President of ATCON

The Federal Government of Nigeria on Wednesday, January 12, 2022 announced a reversing of the ban on the microblogging platform Twitter in the country exactly after 222 days of total disengagement with the Nigerian public following the site’s deleting of President Mohammadu Buahri’s tweet.

The lifting of the ban was issued by Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, the chairman, Technical Committee Nigeria Twitter Engagement and Director General National Information Technology Development Agency.

Abdullahi said the approval for lifting the ban was granted after Twitter agreed to respect Nigeria’s law and culture.

He said the company also agreed to collaborate with the federal government and the broader industry to develop a code of conduct in line with global practices application in most developed countries.

Other conditions accepted by Twitter included committing to setting up an office in Nigeria by the first quarter of this year.

Speaking on the ban lift and what to expect from Twitter under the terms spelt out by the government was Engr. Ikechukwu Nnamani, president of the Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), said the most important thing is that Nigerians that depend on Twitter for their businesses or a means of socialising now have access to the platforms and others that still exists.

“It is a welcome development and I’m personally happy that we’ve been able to make progress on this,” he told Arise News during an interview.

Nnamani said that in terms of the cost, the reality is that no one was happy with this, “not even the federal government. If you engage with them like I did, I got first-hand information on what the challenges were from regulators and security agents”.

“It goes beyond monetary challenge though people did suffer financial loss; there were other issues that needed to be tackled which have now been resolved.

When asked what it cost the federal government of Nigeria – the cost of goodwill from the public and also just a betrayal of basic democratic tenets like freedom of expression, Nnamani responded thus:

“At one point, there were some serious national security issues that needed to be addressed. There is the social part, as I said, people tweeting and the rest of it, But indeed, the problem was deeper than what was presented to the national public, especially from the national security standpoint.

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“There are other social networking platforms being used by Nigerians, and the biggest challenge with the Twitter situation was that before the ban, there was no direct means of communication between Nigeria as an entity and Twitter as a company unlike other platforms where issues and challenges that bothered on national security were met and discussed as it comes up and addressed in general public through the right channels.

“That wasn’t the case for Twitter and the federal government or any organisation within Nigeria that has the right to either speak on behalf of Twitter or approach Twitter on behalf of the government. It’s more complicated than issues made known to the general public.

When asked if he supported the Twitter ban, the President’s response was outright No.

“No I wasn’t. Which is why the moment the ban came into effect, I had to go to Abuja to find out what exactly was going on since our members at ATCON were given instructions?

“Two things came out of that meeting of several engagements. One was a better understanding of what the challenges were and immediately that became clear, we went about looking for how to resolve the challenge, which as I said it’s unfortunate it took so long but eventually, we got to that point.

“So even when you talk to the people in government, they will in all sincerity tell you this is not a route they wish they had to take but there was just no other way around at that time to get things resolved, that is the reality of the matter. Nobody is happy about it, even those in government will tell you the same but there was no other way at that time to resolve the issue at stake until we finally got to this point.

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As data providers, the anchor sought to know how the companies’ funds were depleted due to massive losses from data sales from this.

Secondly, was any agreement really reached in the end? Was this about Twitter paying taxes? Has Twitter been registered as a Nigerian entity and what are the tax filings?

To this end, Nnamani said, “You’re correct in your analysis but the only point you’ve still not appreciated is the national security aspect of this. Once it involves National security, money takes the secondary position and that’s the reality of it. For us, it’s not just about losing money but ensuring that the National Security issues that were at play were adequately addressed.

“So we can’t, just for the sake of money, ignore national security challenges. No country or people do that. As much as we are not happy as service providers, we understood that there was some national security and that is why offline or in private, we did everything possible to ensure that this was resolved as soon as possible.

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The Anchor pointed out that probably more threatening stuff has been done on the likes of Facebook as while the ban went on Twitter, more national security threatening stuff was going on Facebook and the over personal app like WhatsApp.

But in a swift response, Nnamani said the difference between the situation of Twitter and other platforms mentioned is that there is a medium and channel under which issues that are flagged are addressed.

“That did not exist with Twitter before now but we are hoping that going forward, that mechanism will be there.

“You can’t just stop people, not just in Nigeria but all over the world, people can, for any particular reason, put out information that either might be accurate or are not ideal.

When asked if that exists for Facebook, he said: “The difference here is that Facebook and other operators are registered here in Nigeria and today there is a channel and today, even if you as an individual flags something that isn’t right to Facebook, there is a channel for you to flag it and for Facebook to look at it and as long as it’s within their policies, they can take it down.

“That is different from what existed in the past for Twitter, that channel or platform was not there and what needed to be done was literally to create that mechanism where that can be addressed.

“People can always put out stuff in real-time but part of the necessity is the ability to accurately know where to report it if it means not to be online and for people to do what needs to be done within the various platforms to address it.

“It is what it is, you can’t stop these things because they are real time situations but then the most important thing is — what is the fallback mechanism to address these issues when they come up?

“Unfortunately, as at the time the challenge with Twitter came up, there was nothing like that which as I said, I’m hopeful that going forward, those mechanisms will be there. You can’t be 100% accurate, that’s the reality of it, people will still do stuff for whatever reason but then there should be a mechanism to address it in such a way that you protect the right of people to free speech but at the same time, as they always say, free speech is not the right for you to spread lies or create problems when it should not be so. There has to be a balance in all these things.

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Flashing back to Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman’s statement talking about shared sacrifices during the Twitter ban, the anchor sought Nnamani’s view regarding the gains from this seven months lock down of the microblogging site and what is the guarantee that those agreements that have been reached will be met by Twitter?

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“I’m talking about gains in the last 24 hours since Twitter became active again in Nigeria? I’ve seen that the hate speech you’re talking about or Garba Shehu is talking about has even multiplied. Anti-government rhetoric has skyrocketed on the same Twitter. So what is the Nigerian government going to do? Ban Twitter again? And will ATCON support such a move?”, he asked.

Nnamani, said “…as I said earlier, we never supported even the first ban but rather than complain about it we went about looking for ways it could be resolved which eventually was done.

“With respect to your question before the last, in terms of hate speech and the rest being out there, the expectation is that these things will be flagged and Twitter will do something about it.

“But remember, the fact that you report something does not mean Twitter immediately has to take steps without investing or finding out if what reported is actually true or not.

“So there is a mechanism to address this which is going to be a work in progress but I can assure you today there is no part of the world where you have these things 100% in control and Nigeria is not going to be an exception, it’s just going to be a work in progress and more importantly, we expect that people, even if you have a challenge with the government, three things you must do — put out only what is accurate, there’s no need for fake news or something that is not accurate but you put it out there just to hit up the politics or make people agitated.

“Secondly, use the proper channel to air whatever grievance you have. Thirdly and most importantly, we must all be open for engagement no matter the positions we take in any subject matters, there must be room for people to talk about it in an honest and realistic way.

“The second major is that people are already back online and they will continue to tweet just as they use other social media platforms, the only good thing we have out of this is that at least, now there are some potential opportunities for better relationship between Twitter as an organisation and Nigeria as a country.

“This has to now dwell potentially on what could be some of the gains. The fact that they will open up operations again in Nigeria is again because whether we like it or not, Nigerians will be employed, they will probably pay taxes in one form or the other and this will be good for the economy as well as the country.

“But the ability to abide by the agreement and all, I will leave that to Twitter to address. I’m not in position to address if they will abide by the agreement or not. That should be a question we should be posing to Twitter and hopefully get a response from them. But I do hope that whatever agreement has been reached, both parties respect it so that we don’t go back to this situation in the future.

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Continuing, he said “The first that I may add to some of those other gains is that two things happened; one of it may not be in Favour of Twitter but it actually happened — there were some local Nigerian-based platforms that came up as alternatives to Twitter which helped in terms of local content development and others.

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“My encouragement is; as much as people are used to Twitter, they should continue to use those localised contents that have been developed and can offer similar service as long as we want to continue promoting local contents and they are efficient and serve their needs.

“The other part of it which is also very critical is the reality that now people are aware, there’s that consciousness that things like this could happen and on both sides I expect that there will be improvements in how businesses are done on both sides of the fence.

The anchor also asked the president of ATCON, if the caveat of National security were posed to the members to shut down internet services in the country, would they comply?

His response: “If it’s National security, you’re obliged by virtue of your operating license to do it. It’s covered within your operating license that you have to do that as long as it’s National security.

“My candid opinion is that we should move on and focus on other stuff. Two other parts of it without again trying to stick to any numbers, you just quoted two numbers and I wouldn’t want to be throwing a third number to add to the numbers you already have. Chances are none of those numbers may be accurate; it may be higher or lower. But irrespective of what the number is, the reality of the matter is two things — during the ban, people that genuinely use it for that business could not do that is not something anybody is happy about. We hope we never get to that point where this happens again in the future.

“The second point that is also very important is that people tend to forget that when people didn’t use Twitter, especially those that needed it for genuine reasons, they moved to other competing platforms. So, some of them were still able to achieve some of their business objectives. The gains of those other platforms may have actually translated to Twitter’s loss In terms of financial numbers. It’s not an exact science, but it is very good to put these things in clear perspective.

“Thirdly, which people don’t seem to appreciate or understand, but again, is not extremely necessary now that we’ve crossed this particular bridge, some people even within Nigeria were still able to access Twitter services by using VPN.

“It wasn’t because the government was ignorant of the fact that this was going on or there was no medium to prevent people from doing that but in the spirit of trying to resolve the issue while not totally killing the business of people, some of those things were still allowed to co-exist even within the ban.

“The reality is we should look back at this as something we do not wish to happen again, not just about Twitter but it could be another platform tomorrow. What are the lessons learnt? How could we prevent this from happening again in the future, which should be the focus for now”.

You can WATCH the Interview HERE.

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