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10.06.2021 news EXPLAINED: What It Would Mean If Nigeria Had an Internet Firewall

Published 10th Jun, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

In an interview on Arise News on Thursday morning, Muhammadu Buhari said the #EndSARS protests targeted removing him from power.  That same morning, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the broadcasting regulator in the country, advertised that all online broadcast service providers and social media platforms are to apply for licences.

Applying for licences means licences can be suspended on a whim, and fines can be issued by the regulator, in which case, any news considered unfavourable by the government would be punished, thus creating a censorship. With elections earmarked for 2023, the attempts at taking away the one tool through which young Nigerians can use to speak out and hold leaders to account, is deliberate.

On October 27, 2020, a week after the Lekki Massacre, Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, stated before the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values that “the recent #EndSARS war was fought on social media”.

“They mobilised using the social media. The war today revolves around two things. Smartphone and data and these young men don’t even watch television or listen to radio or read newspapers,” he said.

“You will be shocked that when you start arguing with your children, they will be quoting the social media. So, we need a social media policy in Nigeria and we need to empower the various agencies and we need technology to be able to regulate the social media.”

ERASING EVERY TRACE OF THE TIANMEN SQUARE MASSACRE

FIJ found that the plans for an internet firewall between the Nigerian government and the Cyberspace Administration of China has been ongoing since the #EndSARS protests. This would enable the Nigerian government control the media space, and create laws that would criminalise speech against the government.

With the ban of Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, thanks to the Great Firewall of China, the Tianmen Square Massacre is erased from the history of the Chinese internet and national conversations. One proof: Baidu, a popular search engine, brings out a different result from Google when Tianmen Square is typed into it.

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: Presidency Meets With China’s Cyber Regulator to Build Nigerian Internet Firewall

On June 4, 1989, the People’s Liberation Army was sent to quell the Tianmen Square protests. At the height of protests, there were over a million protesters gathered at Tianmen Square. Thousands were killed on that day and many others had to run away from getting arrested by the government.

THE LEKKI MASSACRE

For Nigerian youths, social media, and Twitter especially, is part of the fabric of the civic space through which they can hold the government accountable, demand for their rights, and organise, as they did during the #EndSARS protests.

On the evening of October 20, 2020, Nigerians at Lekki Toll Gate waved the Nigerian flag as they sang the national anthem during the #EndSARS protest. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Lagos State Governor, abruptly imposed a curfew that protesters defied. Around 6:30pm, soldiers approached the toll gate, opened fire at protesters, injured and killed many, and left with some bodies while state agents did everything to clean up the deaths.

Till date, the Nigerian government has denied the massacre. Government supporters on Twitter asked for the evidence of dead bodies to prove that a massacre really took place. This happened when Nigerians still had access to Twitter.

The body language of the Nigerian government, and most especially of Lai, has been to find a way to control social media. The end goal is censorship and controlling information outflow. When Twitter chose Ghana as its headquarters, Lai blamed journalists, the EndSARS movement and new media for “painting Nigeria as a hell nobody should live”.

When Xi Jinping, China’s President, had memes that compared him to Winnie the Pooh, after a 2013 meeting with Barack Obama, China banned the film ‘Winnie the Pooh’, and the Chinese firewall pulled down those images, seen by the Chinese government as “a serious effort to undermine the dignity of the presidential office and Xi himself”.

IP BLOCKING, DNS POISONING, SELF-CENSORSHIP

There are three ways the firewall works using the deep packet inspection technology: IP Blocking, DNS Poisoning, self-censorship and manual enforcement.

In China, the Great Firewall blocks IPs by sitting between the Chinese telco provider and the external foreign server that the user is attempting to access. The firewall filters the data that moves between the local servers and the overseas servers and blocks data coming from blacklisted IPs.

READ ALSO: Lai: Twitter Chose Ghana Because Nigerians Demarketed Their Country

In the Domain Name System (DNS) poisoning, domain names are associated with IP addresses. Computers determine the IP address associated with a domain name and find the server it is to get content from. However, with the Great Firewall, instead of the servers returning with the IP address, it poisons the DNS. With certain keywords, China decides which domains to poison and deny service.

Self -censorship and manual enforcement is done by both Chinese companies (according to Chinese laws) and the Chinese government, which is said to employ millions of people to sift through the Internet and find banned content or government propaganda.

VPNs have been used to circumvent the firewall, but has been subject to crackdown.

There is no doubt about which direction the Nigerian government leans on. If the #EndSARS protest, which was against police brutality, has been interpreted to be a move to remove the President from power, then a firewall or censorship means that Nigerian youths will struggle to tell their stories.

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Published 10th Jun, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

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