Nigeria: between President Muhammadu Buhari and Twitter, a standoff in three acts

The Biafra war, mentioned in the Nigerian president’s tweet Muhammadu Buhari, who was deleted by the social network, brings back painful memories among the Igbos.


Numerous demonstrations took place in several cities in Nigeria on June 12, 2021, a day dedicated to the celebration of democracy (Democracy Day), to protest against the attacks on good governance and individual freedoms by the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari. These protests were an opportunity to denounce one of the latest: the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria. Since June 4, the social network has been suspended “indefinitely”. The measure has been condemned by several human rights organizations and the international community.

1Twitter censors President Buhari

At the origin of the decision of the Nigerian authorities, the deletion of a tweet from the Nigerian head of state referring to the civil war in Biafra. Posted on June 1, 2021, it was part of a “Thread” (wire) resuming the intervention of the president during a meeting at the State House (presidential palace), in Abuja, with the officials of the electoral commission. The statement suggested the use of violence against those responsible for attacks on public infrastructure – including the offices of the electoral commission in the southwest of the country. The authorities accuse an armed group linked to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a pro-Biafra secessionist movement, which has denied any involvement in these attacks.

(Many of those who behave badly today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of life during the Nigerian civil war. Those of us who spent 30 months in the fields, who lived through the war, treat them in the language they understand.)

This southwestern region is that of the Igbos one of the main ethnic groups in the country along with the Yoruba and Hausa , largely decimated by the Biafran conflict which killed at least a million people. Civil war pitted the Igbos against the federal government over fifty years ago. On May 30, 1967, Igbo generals proclaimed the independence of the province of Biafra (south-eastern Nigeria) whose proclaimed capital is the city of Enugu. It will be the beginning of a civil war which will end on January 15, 1970 with a surrender.

After former US President Donald Trump, who also congratulated the Nigerian authorities for their decision to block Twitter, President Muhammadu Buhari is the second head of state whose comments are censored by the social network. The suppression, to have “Infringed” social network rules, was accompanied by a 12-hour suspension. The measure is the result of a report by Nigerian Internet users shocked by the content of the leader’s statement, Nigerian journalist Nwachukwu Egbunike, editor of the citizen media Global Voices for sub-Saharan Africa, told franceinfo Africa. He recalls the socio-political burden of the war in Biafra.

“Some authors, especially those who are Igbos, have called the atrocities committed during this war genocide.” Like the famous Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe in There Was a Country : A Personal History of Biafra (2012) or his equally renowned compatriot Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who was inspired by the conflict to write Half of a Yellow Sun (The other half of the sun, 2007), a book that has been adapted for the cinema.

“In Nigeria, this conflict cannot be taught on school benches, affirme Nwachukwu Egbunike. The conversation about the Civil War never took place. There has been no public acknowledgment of the crimes committed by the federal government. Therefore, it is a very sensitive subject in the country. All the more so when it is mentioned, in 2021, by a president perceived by public opinion as the most hegemonic in our recent history. All these elements made Nigerians react, who reported the tweet as hateful content. They also launched a hashtag, #IAmIgboToo, in support of the Igbo community. ”

2Nigerian authorities suspend Twitter

“This pendant light is not that surprising”, says Nwachukwu Egbunike. The latter emphasizes that the Nigerian authorities are working to limit the flow of information within civil society.. Twitter and more generally social networks have become, according to him, the headquarters “Of an unofficial opposition party” because “The opposition parties are weakened” or “even worse” because “Those who were active in civil society now work for the government“. Young people took to Twitter to deploy online activism, as part of the #EndSARS movement launched to denounce police violence. President Buhari has also accused the youth of wanting to overthrow him through this movement. For Nwachukwu Egbunike, his country “Prances ahead when it comes to provoking political debate on Twitter, at least on the African continent” .

Of the approximately 210 million inhabitants of Nigeria, 40 million use the social network which is the one popular with young people. A success that seems to reinforce the censorship. ”Those who weren’t on Twitter or tweeted less are more active on the social network thanks to VPNs (Virtual private network)and other techniques that bypass the current blockage, ensures Nwachukwu Egbunike. Even if the violators of the ban on using social media are threatened with legal action. “No law allows it, including in Nigeria”, notes in passing the editor of Global Voices for sub-Saharan Africa.

The government, however, ordered broadcast media to suppress their accounts out of patriotism. Companies in the sector are already suffering from the blockage of a medium that has become an important distribution platform for them. “We largely depend on the traffic that our tweets bring us to promote our Youtube channel and the satellite channel. (…) We have already lost 40% of spectators in five days ”, Oladayo Martins, head of web development at News Central, recently told AFP. The economic impact is real. As of June 5, Internet Without Borders estimated that blocking Twitter had already cost “Nearly $ 7 million” in Nigeria.

3Silence, they are negotiating!

The Nigerian authorities have started negotiations with the social network and they condition the restoration of Twitter on its registrationlike a business in Nigeria ”, Information Minister Lai Raufu Mohammed told AFP on June 9, 2021. “The must obtain a license from the broadcasting commission and must prevent its platform from being used by those who promote acts hostile to the very existence of Nigeria ”, specified the politician. Lai Raufu Mohammed criticized the social network for having an agenda “Very suspicious” in Nigeria. He also accused him of funding the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria. Twitter boss Jack Dorsey again showed his support for Nigerians on June 12 by tweeting the country’s flag.

Recently, Muhammadu Buhari only smiled when he was asked about the end of the Twitter suspension in Nigeria in an interview with Nigerian television station Arise TV on June 10, AFP reports. Nigerian President responded “That he kept the answer to himself”.


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