No-one would object to the government doing everything in its power to stop the kidnapping gangs terrorising Nigeria’s northern regions and tarnishing our international reputation.
That’s why the residents of Zamfara seem to be broadly supportive of the week-long internet shutdown, initiated as part of a recent security crackdown.
More than nine million Zamfarans were cut off from the internet for several days, as security forces hunted for the kidnap-for-ransom squads who have been plaguing the areas.
“I’m in full support of the ban” one resident told CNN. “Before now, everyone has been living in fear because of the bandits.”
But no-one would object to the idea of specialist police unit being set up to tackle robbery either.
And we all know what happened with SARS.
Internet and social media shutdowns are becoming a more and more pervasive tactic of African leaders stemming and suppressing the flow of information and opinion online – commonly during elections.
These shutdowns are self-defeating, leading to more – not less –unrest, not to mention human rights violations (and international condemnations), elections lacking in credibility at home and abroad, and as we have seen with Nigeria’s disastrous attempts at banning Twitter, economic loss.
We cannot fall into the trap of accepting dangerous measures when they are deployed to deliver desirable ends. This makes it more likely we will instinctively accept if they are used to destroy democracy.
Think of it as frogs in boiling water. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. If you put it in cold water and heat it to boiling it will do nothing until it is too late.
At the digital democracy campaign, I lead we have previously called for Nigeria to show continental leadership and amend our constitution to guarantee that our citizens will never have their access to the internet unreasonably or unavoidably restricted.
We are doing that again now.
Nations such as Greece and Costa Rica have already taken this step. But we could be the first in Africa.
This simple move could have a profoundly positive impact on public trust in Nigerian democracy too – trust which study after study has shown to be worryingly low.
If you need proof, just look at the recently published results of a major survey conducted by the African Polling Institute.
The study found that 63% Nigerians scored Federal Government “poor” on fight against corruption and 53% of our citizens believe that impunity thrives in the current administration.
83% also believe impunity amongst government officials is ‘increasing’.
The survey also found social cohesion to be under average in Nigerian. And an internet-protection clause in our constitution could improve that too.
As I have previously said, just think of the impact if Nigerian politicians of all parties and ethnicities came together as one to say the same thing. In 2021 – and beyond – internet access is a fundamental human right. And if we put that in our construction we are saying loudly and clearly this: Though we believe in different things, we are all committed to the same democratic values. And we are enshrining this value in law.
At the digital democracy campaign our primary aim is to employ digital technology to improve Nigeria’s democracy.
We have created a free app – Rate Your Leader – which puts verified voters in direct contact with their elected leaders allowing them to build two-way relationships of trust and transparency and to work together to improve both our communities and our country.
Rate Your Leader lets politicians know what is happening in their areas and what matters most to the people who elect them. It also allows voters to get important information directly from local leaders.
If you have leaders that voters trust, feel connected to, believe share their values and who can demonstrate they are immediately responsive to the needs of the people who elect them, you can build a co-operative collaborative nation, united in the national interest
It is this kind of two-way communication, built on honesty and transparency, is what unites us as a nation and let us work together to build a better future. This is the communication democracy needs in the digital age.
Not internet shutdowns.