150 DAYS AFTER BAN, TWITTER, FG YET TO REACH AGREEMENT, NIGERIANS LOSES HIT 370BIL

 

• ‘Suspension may be lifted this week’
• Only one out of 10 demands yet to be met
• Twitter admits progress in discussions, awaits FG decision
• Twitter global users increase, revenue jumps by 37% to $1.28b
• SMEs, govt, economy bleed as losses hit N370b
• Experts appeal to the government to consider the use of platform

Uncertainty continues to trail Federal Government’s plan to lift the ban placed on the micro-blogging platform, Twitter, in Nigeria, 150 days after, and exactly a month since President Muhammadu Buhari promised to unban Twitter.

However, sources monitoring development between the government and social media giant disclosed to The Guardian yesterday that the ban could be lifted this week.

When asked about the status of the ban, he said: “As of today (Sunday), both teams have made significant progress. FG is finalising it. The ban should be lifted this week.

“There has been major progress in the discussions. Out of the 10 demands by the government, only one is left, which is Twitter having a formal presence in Nigeria. If that is agreed and sorted, then no issue again.

“There is supposed to be a meeting today (Monday) with the Twitter team; if they finally agree to the remaining one request, I can assure you that the ban would be lifted the next day.”
Earlier on August 19, the Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed that from the 10 demands put forward to lift the suspension, the social networking platform had acceded to seven.

When contacted, Twitter sources in Nigeria told The Guardian that the American firm does not want to comment on anything, but patiently awaiting the process of lifting the ban, alluding to signals that an agreement may have been reached between the two parties.

“They trust that this process will be completed in the most objective manner and they are happy to speak after the ban is lifted,” the source stated.

This is coming days after Twitter recorded $1.28 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2021, representing a 37 per cent increase recorded in the corresponding period in 2020. Despite the ban in the country, Twitter had seen an increase in monetisable users and revenue.

According to the Q3,2021 financial statement, Twitter generated $742 million in the United States, an increase of 45 per cent, while international revenue stood at $542 million, an increase of 28 per cent.

Twitter also reported that Japan remains their second-largest market after the United States, growing at 20 per cent and contributing $159 million to the overall revenue. The report also said the company’s total advertising revenue stood at $1.14 billion, an increase of 41 per cent.

On the flip side, year-over-year growth for Q3 ad revenue slowed in comparison to Q2 2021. Twitter posted a $537 million net loss in the third quarter after settling a lawsuit alleging investors were misled about slowing user growth.

Despite revenue rising sharply with the help of robust ad sales, Twitter still posted an operating loss of $743 million, fuelled by the more than $800 million settlement.

The 2016 federal suit filed by shareholders claimed the defendants, such as former CEO Dick Costolo, did not disclose the full picture of the company’s state while they sold their personal stock in Twitter.

Twitter’s key subscriber metric, monetisable daily active users (mDAU), hit 211 million in the quarter, up 13 per cent from a year ago. The company said it is projecting revenue between $1.5 billion and $1.6 billion in the next quarter.

IN his Independence Day anniversary speech on October 1, President Buhari had sounded like all outstanding issues had been resolved, directing the lifting of the suspension if the organisation meets government’s conditions. In fact, many headlines had misled readers to believe the unbanning was with immediate effect. But 30 days after, Twitter remains banned with costs spiraling.

Recall that 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 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.

The pangs of the ban since then have impacted businesses, especially the Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs) and governments at different levels. They continue to bear the brunt of the suspension while the economy takes a hit. It had also brought untold hardship on Nigerians, especially those in the online community.

According to NetBlocks, a watchdog organisation that monitors cyber-security and governance of the Internet, each hour of the suspension costs Nigeria $250,000 (N102.5 million), bringing the daily loss to N2.46 billion. Invariably, it means in the last 150 days, the economy has lost over N370 billion to the suspension.

Early last month, despite the suspension, millions of stranded social media users bypassed the ban as Facebook-owned services, WhatsApp and Instagram, remained shut down for hours.

Before the six-hour shutdown was restored on the Facebook-owned apps, Nigerians migrated heavily to Twitter, circumventing the ban using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

SPEAKING on the palpable silence on the matter, the Nigerian Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, said it may be that the Minister of Information and Culture is waiting for the President to approve the suspension of the ban.

On the losses, Teniola said it is very much the case that SMEs have adapted and may have migrated to other Internet-based platforms to continue to reach out to their potential clients and those they address.

“It is more likely to be a waiting game being played out. What the FG should do is update the citizens when this wait will come to an end.

“Continued dialogue and engagement with all social media and Internet-based platforms are highly recommended so that the wishes of government are taken into consideration by the ‘Algorithms’ that make up the Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems used by these platforms to curb hate speech and fake news,” he stated.

The Minister had on October 18 said the recommended conditions for the lifting of the Twitter suspension will be applicable to all Over-The-Top and other social media platforms in the country. Mohammed, who headed the Federal Government ministerial negotiation team, reiterated that the engagements with Twitter had been positive and fruitful, saying its report would be submitted to President Buhari.

“All I can say is that the recommendations we are going to make will not only be applicable to Twitter but they will be applicable to all OTTs and other social media platforms in Nigeria. Today, we are dealing with Twitter, we don’t want a situation where we will be dealing with Facebook tomorrow and Instagram the next day. Our recommendations will be very comprehensive.

“I want to say that we should wait for the committee to officially give its report to the President but things are looking very positive and rosy. After submitting our reports and recommendations to the President, I will be disposed to say what we agreed and what have been met and what has not been met,” he had said.

Already, there are about five lawsuits in Nigeria and the ECOWAS courts on the Twitter ban. Recall that Enough is Enough (EiE), Paradigm Initiative (PIN), and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) have filed a lawsuit against MTN, Airtel, Globacom, and 9Mobile to declare the blockage of Twitter access as unlawful, unconstitutional, and against the rights to freedom of expression.

These social enterprise groups are also seeking an injunction restraining the telecommunication firms from blocking or interfering with Twitter and any other social media platform.

President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMs), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, appealed to the Federal Government to resolve the matter as fast as possible on the basis that subscribers are suffering, especially those who run businesses online.

MEANWHILE, findings by The Guardian have shown that Indian social media platform, Koo, is finalising its plan to register formally in Nigeria.

Already gaining acceptance in government circles, the Koo team had in September informed that it would register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) this quarter and begin to pay taxes as required by the law.

The firm 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.