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Semiotic Square Root of Nigeria’s Politics of the 2021 Twitter Ban

Semiotic Square Root of Nigeria’s Politics of the 2021 Twitter Ban

Like other countries, the Nigerian government officially banned Twitter on June 4, 2021, which restricted it from operating in the country. The ban decision was executed after Twitter deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet that warned members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) about the level of insecurity they are causing in the south-east region and that they would receive the shock of their lives if they continued destroying critical national infrastructure. The government’s irritation was also linked to the fact that the medium failed to ban the leader of the group, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, who has over the years used the platform to incite people in the region against the government. About five months after the ban, President Buhari stressed that the ban can only be lifted when the medium fulfills five conditions: respect for national security and cohesion; registration, physical presence, and representation in Nigeria; fair taxation; dispute resolution; and local content.

The state actors (government officials, parliamentarians, opposition parties, opposition politicians) and non-state actors (civil society organisations/non-governmental organisations, social commentators, public affairs analysts, professional bodies, individual professionals and citizens) engaged in a series of policy narratives, which were documented by both mainstream and new media.

Analysis of the narratives indicates that policy coalition actors (state), which comprise state actors, tended towards misuse of the medium belief throughout the ban period, while advocacy coalition actors (non-state), which comprise non-state actors, emphasised suppressing freedom of speech as well as economic loss beliefs. However, while the policy coalition actors constantly expressed misuse belief, analysis shows that they equally frequently pointed out amicable resolutions in sight when the advocacy coalition actors stressed illegality beliefs.

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State actors emphasised the narrative that the medium is being misused by the citizens. Therefore, it should be banned before it destabilises the political system and/or structure. Non-state actors considered the ban illegal and a means to gag people from heavily participating in the country’s democracy. These were the counter-dominant narratives from the advocacy actors and were constantly pursued during the ban period to the extent that the foreign governments, through their envoys, in most cases involved themselves in the policy change processes by expressing their support to the people and the advocacy coalition actors. When the federal government and national parliament discovered the implications of the external intervention, the government created the envoys’ invitation narrative as part of its dominant narrative with the intention of informing foreign governments about the factors that necessitated the ban.

Again, analysis reveals a continuous counter-dominant narrative of illegality from the advocacy coalition actors and some of the policy coalition actors, stating the implications of the ban on the country’s international image. When it was clear that some prominent citizens and organisations were using the medium despite the ban, the federal government developed and spread the ban’s remains and the prosecution of violators as alternative narratives, while the advocacy coalition came up with the impossible prosecution because some cabinet members were using the medium despite the ban and the need for resolution because national image and economy are at stake, in addition to compensating young entrepreneurs who lost huge revenue. As Exhibit 1 depicts, analysis reveals misuse, lifting the ban, prosecution and resolution as the metanarratives of the policy coalition actors, while the advocacy coalition actors continued their positions of illegality, freedom of speech suppression, compensation, impossible prosecution and resolution metanarratives. The idea of a semiotic square root emerges when the actors start diverging on certain issues and needing to reach an amicable resolution. Analysis suggests that the resolution metanarrative was vehemently pursued by policy coalition actors when some of their members started pushing the lifting the ban metanarrative due to economic implications and the exposure of cabinet members to the counter-metanarrative constantly pursued by the advocacy coalition actors.

Exhibit 1: Metanarratives by actors

Source: Infoprations Analysis, 2023

Our analyst notes that society will continue to experience policy conflict within a democratic system as long as digital media keep evolving with the aim of ensuring and/or enhancing participatory democracy because people will constantly pursue their self-interests despite scarcity of resources. Despite this, the analysis suggests that having intra- and inter-conflict over policy change is useful for addressing issues that could jeopardise the socioeconomic growth of citizens and dent a country’s image among the international community.

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