In the lead-up to last month’s Nigerian general election, false reports of planned shutdowns of all telecom networks and online banking began circulating through social media platforms.
The Nigerian government has never deliberately ordered an Internet shutdown. However, its recent ban on Twitter (5 June 2021 to 13 January 2022) led some to report—and believe—it would do so during the elections on 25 February 2023.
In response to these claims, which included an open letter to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from several members of the #KeepItOn coalition, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)—the independent national regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria—released a public statement advising citizens to ignore fraudulent messages related to the government’s intention to shut down the Internet.
“The Nigerian public, consumers of telecommunications services, and all bank customers are advised to ignore these or similar messages that insinuate deliberate network shutdown or disruption of services in the Nigerian telecom network.
These malicious and subversive messages originated and are being circulated by fraudsters and unscrupulous elements in the society with the intent to cause chaos and panic among the populace.
The Commission has received unequivocal assurances from all the service providers to the effect that all the network services are currently in optimal performance, and will not witness any deliberate shutdown or disruptions, especially at this very crucial period of general elections in the country.”Press Statement by the NCC, 24 February 2023
As proponents of an open, globally-connected, secure, and trustworthy Internet, we at Pulse were heartened by this proactive action that stemmed from an advisory relationship that the Internet Society Nigeria Chapter has developed with the NCC over the last few years.
“When rumors of the Internet shutdown spread during the 2023 elections, we engaged some of our [NCC] partners through backchannels to inform and advise them to make the statement,” recounts Caleb Olumuyiwa Ogundele, President of the Internet Society Nigeria Chapter.
Caleb says that the chapter has reassessed its approach to digital rights advocacy over the years, realizing more of an impact can be made by working privately with key advisors in the government to help them understand the consequences of any Internet-related decision it is considering, rather than opposing these via public channels.
He says that through this process, the NCC has become one of the chapter’s “biggest supporters”, a reflection of the trust that the two entities have developed between each other.
“One of the keys to developing this relationship has been to make them see that it’s a win-win when everyone follows best practices,” says Caleb. “Civil society and digital rights activists should learn to engage and not always see the government as an adversary.”
This recent win against a growing threat to the Internet is one of many that the Internet Society Nigeria Chapter is informing the government on, including how best to mitigate cybercrime, censorship and surveillance, and fake news, as well as strengthening data protection laws and extending encryption.
The chapter also helped inform and draft an Internet Impact Brief that shows Nigeria’s Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 would negatively affect the performance, resilience, trustworthiness, and security of the Internet and reduce future socio-economic opportunities that the Internet could offer for Nigeria.
“Addressing these threats requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders to build a more open, secure, and resilient Internet for all Nigerians,” says Caleb.
Is your Internet Society Chapter taking an advisory role with the government in your country? If so, we’d love to hear about it – get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Commonwealth Observer Group Nigeria General Election on Flickr.