After banning Twitter, Nigeria considers Chinese model of internet regulation - report

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Nigeria is said to be considering an attitude toward Twitter that is similar to China's.
Nigeria is said to be considering an attitude toward Twitter that is similar to China's.
Fabian Sommer/picture alliance via Getty Images
  • A local investigation reports that Nigerian officials reached out to China to discuss regulation tactics.
  • Nigerian officials have previously called for social media regulation.
  • Twitter remains banned in Nigeria.

After banning Twitter, Nigeria’s ministers reportedly met with Chinese counterparts to discuss replicating China’s "Great Firewall" in the West African country. 

An investigation by the Foundation for Investigative Journalism spoke to a whistleblower who raised concerns over the meeting. Fearful of the consequences and pointing to the secrecy of the meeting, the whistleblower was unclear about the extent of the discussions, said Socrates Mbamalu, the journalist leading the investigation.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s official spokesperson Garba Shehu did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the report, Buhari’s chief-of-staff, Ibrahim Gambari, and Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohamed met with Chinese officials.

READ | Africa's biggest threat may be Nigeria's cratering economy

This isn’t the first time Nigeria has looked to China as a model for internet security. Last year, the China Africa Project reported that Lai cited China as an example of how to regulate social media.

'Fake news will not destroy Nigeria'

The ministry first floated the idea in a 2018 meeting on National Council on Information, but opposition politicians and civil society vehemently opposed any regulation. After the #EndSARS protests, which saw thousands of young Nigerians take to the streets against police brutality last October, the information minister reignited his campaign to regulate social media.

With combatting fake news as the basis of his argument, Lai told the House of Representatives that "social media and fake news will not destroy Nigeria".

"The recent #EndSARS war was fought on social media. They mobilised using the social media. The war today revolves around two things," Lai said.

EndSARS protesters occupy Lagos State House of Ass
EndSARS protesters occupy Lagos State House of Assembly, in Nigeria on 9 October 2020.

"Smartphone and data ... and these young men don’t even watch television or listen to radio or read newspapers. You will be shocked that when you start arguing with your children, they will be quoting the social media. So, we need a social media policy in Nigeria and we need to empower the various agencies and we need technology to be able to regulate the social media."

Through the so-called Great Firewall, Chinese authorities have successfully regulated the internet usage of more than a billion users. The state-driven technology blocks access to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google.

It also effectively monitors any form of dissent and has become attractive to African governments looking to block the internet to stifle criticism.

In the meantime, Twitter remains banned in Nigeria, cutting off an estimated 40 million users who rely on the app as a platform for entrepreneurship, political expression and connection.

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