Macro Analysis /

Nigeria lifts Twitter ban as 2023 election approaches

  • The government has lifted its ban on Twitter after a little over seven months

  • VPN providers gained clients as Nigerians turned to them during the ban. They will now lose out

  • The government gained some tax and other benefits but the coming election campaign may be the key reason for the reverse

Nigeria lifts Twitter ban as 2023 election approaches
Tellimer Research
14 January 2022
Published byTellimer Research

Nigeria's government has finally lifted the ban it placed on Twitter seven months ago.

The ban, imposed after the social media giant deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that it said flouted Twitter’s community guidelines, brought unflattering coverage in international mainstream media. We highlighted at the time that it reflected Nigeria's underlying vulnerabilities around security, freedom, political succession and the ease of doing business.

In this report, we highlight the unlikely winners from the ban and the importance of the timing of the reversal.

VPN providers thrived

The government flexed its muscles and won some authoritarian points with the ban, but there were some other unlikely winners. Although many people, companies and government organisations stayed away from Twitter, huge numbers did not. Unwilling to miss out on the unique form of engagement that Twitter offers and in the absence of any decent local social media stand-ins (Koo, an Indian microblogging app, tried to push itself as an alternative to an unreceptive public), Nigerians turned to virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass the ban.

Google searches for VPNs in Nigeria peaked during the week of the Twitter ban. One popular operation, Express VPN, recorded a 200% spike in web traffic a day after the ban.

With the ban lifted, VPN providers will be kissing goodbye to the new Nigerian users they have gained over the past seven months.

Nigerians turned to VPN to gain access to Twitter

Never let a crisis go to waste

Bruised egos initially led to the ban, but the government quickly turned the situation into an opportunity to negotiate with Twitter for more money and control. Some of the terms that the Nigerian government and Twitter finally agreed on are:

  • Twitter must establish a legal entity in Nigeria by Q1 22;

  • The company will begin paying taxes to Nigeria, complying with Nigerian tax laws;

  • It will appoint a country representative to interface directly with the Nigerian government; and

  • Nigeria will be enrolled on Twitter’s Partner Support and Law Enforcement Portal. This will allow government officials to report tweets directly. That said, it is important to note that this particular point could have been achieved without a ban as other countries have a similar arrangement with Twitter.

We are uncertain how many users Twitter has in Nigeria but we suspect it is the biggest market in Africa given the country's size and Nigerians' high engagement with social media. Former Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, has also been very vocal about his admiration for the country and its people. These factors may well have influenced Twitter and its decision-makers to make some concessions.

More than licenses and taxes

Beyond the negotiated items, it is worth noting that 2022 is a pre-election year in Nigeria. Twitter is an excellent way of shaping the narrative, as seen with the recent nationwide protest in Nigeria – 'End SARS' – and, more pertinently, Buhari's election victory in 2015. There is reason to believe that there is a correlation between the timing of the reversal and upcoming pre-electoral events.