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Twitter Ban: Nigeria’s tech start-ups in danger

* $377m revenue threatened    


With the Federal Government-imposed ban on Microblogging site, Twitter finally in effect, Nigeria’s tech start-up ecosystem seems to be the worst hit with over $377m worth of revenue threatened. BABAJIDE OKEOWO in this report takes a look at how this ban will affect the Nigerian economy and those that stand to lose more from it.
In 2019 alone, according to a report from Tech Point, Nigerian tech start-ups raised a whopping $377m in funding. This huge revenue generation resulted in jobs for a significant number of people and revenue in the form of taxes for the government. All these are in grave danger following the decision of the Federal Government to temporarily suspend the operations of Twitter in Nigeria following a row with the Federal Government.
Most start-ups depend in large part, on social media, of which Twitter is a significant part. Without access to social media to run marketing campaigns or build relationships with their customers, business would take a hit. Applications that are built using Twitter’s Application Programming Interface, APIs, which is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other are also affected.
Perhaps, the devastating effect that this ban will have on the business ecosystem and Nigeria’s economy at large was succinctly painted by Steve Babaeko, President, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN).
“Now to the business impact, a sizable portion of the youth population earn their livelihood off Twitter, some simply by being attack dogs or mouthpiece for politicians and the government. Clearly, income for those youths will be lost no thanks to the ban.
A chunk of media spend happens on Twitter, the media agencies and digital agencies will also lose money”, he stated while appealing to the FG to rescind the decision.
“Let me appeal to the government to rescind this ban immediately. Unemployment among the youth segment currently stands at about 35%, depending on which state of the federation you are looking at, the Crypto and Twitter ban will only exacerbate the unemployment situation. An idle hand, they say, is the Devil’s workshop.
Finally, the ban will be of little or no effect since most people have simply downloaded VPN to skirt around the ban. If that’s the case, then I don’t think this head bump with Twitter is worth further depressing our already fragile economy over”, he said.
Similarly, Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde also called for a reversal of the #TwitterBan saying that many Nigerians depend on Twitter to earn their livelihood while calling on the government to rescind the decision.
“We should also remember that Twitter has gone beyond a source of communication for many of our hardworking youths in Nigeria. It has become a source of livelihood for many, irrespective of their political affiliations or religious leanings. Nigerian youths and digital communications organisations earn a living from being able to use the platform to post communications on behalf of their clients”, he said.
The level of the potential damage that this ban portends for start-ups in Nigeria was highlighted by Oluyomi Ojo.
“Political stability is one of the factors that investors consider while making investment decisions. By banning Twitter and directing the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC to start licensing Over The Top, OTT services in the country, investors are not likely to jump at the opportunity of investing in Nigerian startups depriving the country of much-needed investments”, he lamented.
Similarly, Mazi Juls decried the added stress that many Nigerian start-ups would have to go through during fundraising.
“What did these humans do to the Federal Government, block twitter and thereby block every other domain that has Twitter’s APIS embedded in it? React native elements, UI kitten, my components libraries are not working. I can’t do my work. What is wrong with this country?
While these businesses would find ways to innovate around the ban, their users may not. You now have to add “how would you navigate a government ban” to the type of questions you might have to answer when fundraising,” he wrote.
Similarly, the US Mission in Nigeria also frowned at the action of the Federal Government, saying this action undermines Nigerians’ ability to exercise their fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses.
The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, alongside concerted efforts toward unity, peace, and prosperity”, the statement from the US Mission in Nigeria said.
Aside from businesses and start-ups, another key demography that will bear the brunt of the ban are social media influencers.
Over the past few years, the influencer marketing space in Nigeria has grown so much that almost anyone with dedicated followers could snag deals with organisations looking to extend their reach.
According to the Influencer Compensation Report 2020 by Plaqad, an all-in-one communications platform that helps brands and individuals run end-to-end campaigns on a single platform
Though some influencers — mostly lifestyle — use Instagram more, Twitter is the primary platform for most of them.
The report shows that 55.6 per cent of brands in Nigeria spent between N10 million and N50 million on influencer campaigns in 2019. 11 per cent had a budget of over 50 million, while more than 33 per cent spent less than N10 million.
As social media becomes more entrenched in people’s lives and takes on more functional uses beyond communication, the role of influencers is set to only grow. With this ban, the revenue of many of these influencers will be hampered.
Small and medium enterprises are vital to the growth of any economy, frequently providing as much as 60-70% of the economy with jobs. Numbering about 117.4 million, SMEs in Nigeria contribute 48% of national GDP, account for 96% of businesses, and 84% of employment.
Many SMEs have leveraged the Internet, especially social media, for business activities such as marketing and customer service. The number of vendors on Twitter and Instagram is a testament to this.
While these businesses could move to other platforms, their posts might not gain as much engagement as Twitter provides. What’s more? There are no assurances that a ban on other social media platforms would not follow.
How It All Began
On Friday, June 4, 2021, Nigeria’s government announced that it was indefinitely suspending Twitter’s operation in Africa’s most populous nation after the company deleted a controversial tweet President Muhammadu Buhari made about a secessionist movement.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, announced the indefinite suspension of Twitter in the country.
Mohammed said government officials decided to suspend Twitter because the platform was being used “for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Mohammed also criticized Twitter for deleting the post.
Outrage Over Twitter Ban
The move has understandably drawn outrage from across the world and Nigerians who see it as yet another attack on free speech by the government.
There have been Joint Statements from the Diplomatic Missions of Canada, The European Union (Delegation To Nigeria), The Republic of Ireland, Norway, The United Kingdom and the United States of America condemning the ban.
Twitter also said it is deeply concerned by the government’s action saying free and open internet was an essential human right in modern society.
Threat Of Prosecution Looms Large
Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami has ordered the immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government’s ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.
This development was announced by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice last Saturday.
Spokesperson of the Ministry, Umar Jibrilu Gwandu said the AGF had directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation, DPPF to swing into immediate action and commence prosecution of the violators of the ban.
“Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) at the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government de-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria.
Malami directed the DPPF to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication Communication (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay,” the statement read in part.
It is left to be seen how this face-off between the Federal Government and Twitter will pan out. However, it seems that Nigerians as usual will be the worse for it.