How has Twitter ban affected Buhari’s image globally?

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Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress

President Muhammadu Buhari came to the scene many years ago and gained popularity as a military dictator, having ruled Nigeria in 1983-85 as the Head of State, where of course, human rights were relegated.

This is what the international community stands for at the moment, the rights of everyone. The United States and other international communities, like the United Nations and European Union, will rather seek to protect the freedom of any man, regardless.

Apparently, the image of any government or country’s leader is first judged by his/her respect for human rights.

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, who is the focus for today, returned to the centre of the political scene of the country prior to the 2015 election that finally brought him to power after four attempts.

He was sold to Nigerians as a repentant democrat, who has pulled off his dictatorial face and attire to become one who understands and is willing to respect the rights of Nigerians, by acting according to the constitution, respecting the rule of law, which includes respecting court orders and following due democratic process.

Buhari, an ex-general, who led a short-lived military junta in the 1980s, and was elected president in 2015 by Nigerians, has accepted to be a “reformed democrat.”

This, amongst others, brought him close to the international communities and placed his name in the new book as one who will entrench democracy as well as deliver its dividend to Nigerians.

No wonder he was invited to the Chatam House prior to the 2015 election where he also gave a speech and promised same, a move that was seen by political analysts as having it good with the international community. Some also argue that Buhari was helped to gain power by their support.

Things might have changed too early. A tip of the iceberg was seen in the first four years where Buhari’s government serially ignored court orders, in the case of the release of Shites leader, El Zakzaky, and the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. This adds to the harassment and arrest of journalists and activists during protests.

The October 2020 alleged shooting of Lekki #EndSars protesters and maltreatment meted on other protesters across the country has not gone unnoticed by the international community.

Recall also that President Buhari threw a pharmacist, Solomon Akuma, into prison because he had threatened to hire an assassin to kill Buhari and his former Chief of Staff, the late Alhaji Abba Kyari.

Akuma had spent three months in detention without a court order or trial until he was eventually arraigned for charges bordering on terrorism, sedition, criminal intimidation of the President, and threat to life of Buhari.

Nevertheless, the Federal Government suspended Twitter on June 4. The official press release gave only a justification, citing threats to “Nigeria’s corporate existence”.

While only a minority of Nigerians use Twitter, they form part of the most vocal and politically active segment of the population. Many young people have used Twitter and other social media recently to organize anti-government protests. Others earn from it by connecting businesses.

However, within hours, internet searches for “VPNs” – virtual private networks, which allow users to disguise their online identity and evade country-specific limits – surged across the country.

With the Twitter ban and the use of VPN, most Nigerians resulted to changing their location to the United States where they went ahead to discuss the Nigerian problem, which was now seen by the outside world. This meant that even though the complaints and agitations of the citizens were being posted to the public social media platform, the issues seldom ever registered as the trending topics of other countries because of the latest development.

Therefore, millions of Nigerians, who usually tweet and register their discontent as the trending topics, were now registering the issues on the trend list of the United States. Americans woke up confused by terms such as ‘IPOB’, ‘Buhari’ and ‘Malami’.

In the wake of the ban, the displeasure of Nigerians was being broadcast to the center of the world through VPNs, creating global awareness for a matter that would have otherwise remained local.

Nigerians may have now learned how to ensure that topics of agitation are registered on the trends lists of the United States – by mobilizing Nigerians to tweet via VPNs with the US as their virtual location.

Now, the United States has the opportunity of knowing the mind of Nigerians directly, not through the government or its agencies, as it had happened in the past, registering a lot and giving perceptions about the Buhari-government.

The European Union (EU), United States, Canada and other notable countries have therefore condemned the Twitter ban on the ground that the action “has no place in a democracy”.

“Freedom of expression and access to information both online and offline are foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies,” State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, said.

All of this development may have affected President Muhammadu Buhari’s image before the international community. Hence, it is doubtful if he is still seen as the “repentant democrat”.

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