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Nigeria reportedly meets China to control access to social media, VPNs, others

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Just two days after a ban on microblogging platform, Twitter, the Nigerian Federal Government is reportedly working to gain control over what Nigerians can access on the Internet. 

If reports by the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ)  are anything to go by, the Nigerian Presidency has reached out to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) to discuss plans to build an internet firewall. 

Fij also reports that Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to the President, and Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture were among those present in the meeting. 

The Internet Firewall will be similar to China’s Great Firewall, which allows the Chinese government to prevent access to social media platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, and any other website it chooses. 

The sophistication of China’s Firewall also allows the government to block its citizens from using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

Recall that on June 4, 2021, the Nigerian government enforced a ban on Twitter, stating that the platform undermines the country’s corporate existence. The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) was also required to licence over-the-top (OTT) platforms like YouTube, Netflix, or other social media platform.

The Nigerian government has flirted with this move in the past. The Nigerian Communications Commission already has a framework to regulate OTT platforms, arguing that they negatively affect telco revenues. 

In 2019, Nigerian lawmakers introduced two controversial and heavily criticised bills: The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other Related Offences bill (Social Media Bill) and the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech bill. 

Nigeria’s Finance Act 2020 also contains a legal provision to tax tech giants like Google and Facebook for the revenue they make from the country. 

However, we raised a major issue: a lack of the required technical expertise to implement regulations on or collect taxes from OTT platforms. 

If the Nigerian Internet Firewall comes to fruition, Internet censorship of Nigerians, social media regulations, and taxation might become possible.

Interestingly, China would also add Nigeria to a list of African countries where it has a significant but questionable presence.

China’s Huawei helped design the African Union (AU) Headquarters in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, but according to Le Monde reports (in French, use Chrome to translate), the US accused China of stealing data from the AU headquarters. 

Huawei was also accused of helping the Ugandan and Zambian governments spy on opposition parties. 

Figures from Nigeria’s Debt Management Office show that Nigeria’s debt to China grew 136% between September 2015 and September 2020, from $1.4 billion to $3.3 billion.

A significant part of that debt is a $328 million loan to install fibre optic cables in Northern Nigeria. 

Consequently, Nigeria’s growing partnership with China could extend to much more than just building an Internet firewall.

This is a developing story.

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