Authorities lift the months-long suspension on social media giant’s operations after it agrees to meet conditions.
Lagos, Nigeria – Solomon Elusoji, a Lagos-based journalist, felt a rush of relief early on Thursday after being able to access Twitter for the first time in seven months.
“It feels like freedom,” Elusoji told Al Jazeera. “As a journalist, I use Twitter a lot to track what’s happening in Nigeria, so the past few months have been quite challenging. So it was really nice to have free access to the site once again.”
The Nigerian government late on Wednesday said it would lift its ban on the operations of the social media giant in the country after Twitter agreed to conditions, including opening a local office.
According to a government statement, the conditions also include addressing operations and tax issues and “managing prohibited publications in line with Nigerian law”.
In June 2021, Nigerian authorities had announced the indefinite suspension of Twitter in the country, accusing the United States-based company of allowing its platform to be used “for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
The suspension came two days after Twitter temporarily suspended President Muhammadu Buhari’s account for violating Twitter’s abusive behaviour policy after a tweet in which he threatened to punish regional secessionists in the wake of attacks on public property.
Angry and shocked, many Twitter users at the time cited a wave of popular protests against police brutality, which saw young people mobilising through social media under the #EndSARS hashtag, as one of the reasons behind the move.
The suspension prompted many to turn to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to be able to access the online platform. Despite the massive usage of VPNs, however, experts said the ban sent the wrong signal to foreign investors and hurt small businesses using Twitter as a source of livelihood.
#EndSARS trends again
Following the government’s announcement, Twitter Public Policy on Thursday said it was “pleased” that the service “has been restored for everyone in Nigeria”.
Amnesty International’s Nigeria branch welcomed the lifting of the ban and called on the Nigerian authorities to “end all acts that violate rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of the press”.
Social media users also inundated Twitter, reacting to the lifting of the suspension using hashtags such as #TwitterisBack and #TwitterBan. The #EndSARS hashtag trended again, as well.
Popular comedian and Nollywood actor Frank Donga volunteered to help small businesses recoup lost revenue.
Lagos-based lawyer Ridwan Olayemi, meanwhile, raised concerns about telecommunication companies who “prioritized their business interests over Nigerians’ fundamental human rights” during the ban.
Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at SBM Intelligence, a political risk analysis firm in Lagos, told Al Jazeera the government’s decision was made with the 2023 elections in mind.
“With elections a little over a year away, the current ruling party, which ascended to the national stage largely on the back of a successful social media campaign, understands how vital Twitter remains as a public square for accessing, and more importantly, influencing the perspectives of Nigerians. It is in that sense that the Twitter ban must be assessed,” Ikemesit said.