Rush for VPNs in Nigeria as Twitter access is blocked

Twitter PHOTO: AFP via Getty Images

Young Nigerians are finding a way around the banning of Twitter in the West African country after a spat between the social media giant and authorities escalated this week.

Announcing the ban on Friday via the Twitter handle of Nigeria’s ministry of information and culture, a spokesman for Minister Lai Mohammed cited the “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence” for the ban.

Many young Nigerians disenchanted by the ban which came into effect on Saturday morning are turning to virtual private networks (VPN) apps to access the social media platform.

Figures from Google Trends on Saturday morning showed more than 100% spike in searches related to VPNs.

Plateau, Niger, Kaduna, all in Nigeria’s north, are the top three states where the search for VPN-related searches surged. Ondo and Cross River completed the top five.

Statistics from Similar Web also shows an increase in the interest in VPN apps.

VPN also trended on Twitter a few hours after the ban was announced.

“I believe most IT-savvy guys won’t be moved because most of us have not been tweeting from Nigeria,” said Elijah Bello, a programmer and web developer. “We use a technology called VPN that simply fake your location, hence bypassing the ban.

“In the long run, this might be a blow on the Nigerian government and not Twitter.”

Modupe Odele, a lawyer and a frontline #EndSARS protester who has been targeted by the  Nigerian Government advised against using VPNs that can steal personal data.

“Please folks be careful the VPNs you download to use. Some expose you to vulnerabilities. If you can afford a paid one, that’s usually a better option,” she tweeted on Saturday.

“We advise all users of Twitter and other social media platforms in Nigeria to download virtual private networks (VPNs) to enable them continue to use the platforms for their economic survival and social and political engagements while we all push back on this draconian order by the Nigerian government,” a Nigerian civic tech organisation Paradigm Initiative said in a statement.

The Nigerian government under Buhari has never hidden its intention to regulate social media in the country. Twitter became the prime target when its CEO Jack Dorsey supported the #EndSARS protests against police brutality in October 2020.

The social media giant also decided to cite its African headquarters in Ghana, noting that “as a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate.”

Many see that as a subtle dig at Nigeria. In fact, Minister Mohammed blamed Nigerians for Twitter’s decision, accusing them of demarketing the country.

However, the tension between the two parties got to a head this week.

A tweet by the President Muhammadu Buhari evoking the dark memories of the Nigerian Civil War was deleted by Twitter on Wednesday, with the platform saying the tweet violated its “abusive behaviour” rules.

“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War,” Buhari tweeted. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”

Twitter’s action came after the offensive tweet was reported, with many calling for the suspension of the president from the social media platform.

The Nigerian government reacted on Thursday by casting doubt on the operations of Twitter in the country.

Mohammed told a press conference on Thursday that the social media giant has deliberately ignored inciting tweets by Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and his cohorts.

Mohammed claimed Twitter displayed the same biases it did during the #EndSARS protests

“The mission of Twitter in Nigeria is very, very suspect,” Mohammed said on Thursday.

“Has Twitter deleted the violent tweets that Nnamdi Kanu has been sending? Has it? The same Twitter during the #EndSARS protests that was funding #EndSARS protesters?”

The culmination of the spat was the ban.

“The announcement made by the Nigerian Government that they have suspended Twitter’s operations in Nigeria is deeply concerning,” Twitter said in a statement, adding that it was investigating the matter


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