It’s 9 days to Nigeria’s highly contended and much talked about general elections. And there have been concerns and unconfirmed reports of a planned internet shutdown by the incumbent government during election period.
This allegation was first made by Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike.
According to a report, Wike who is from the opposition party said;
“The national security adviser has met with INEC to ensure that internet service providers shutdown the internet, so that foreign bodies won’t see what’s happening in the country during the elections. They will jam all the frequencies and internet services to stop real time communication during the elections.”
No further proof was given or statement made. But this claim is not far-fetched as in recent times, some countries in Africa have resorted to internet shutdowns during election periods. Most have chalked it up to controlling the spread of fake results and news.
Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) issued a statement debunking the claim by Wike saying it “remains committed to protecting the rights of the public to accessing Information and Communication Technology facilities,” and that shutting down the internet negated this.
As an authority in the matter, should the statement by the ONSA be taken with utmost confidence?
Cameroon is a good reason why not.
April 20th 2017 internet was finally restored to the North-West and South-West English-speaking parts of the country after a 94-day internet blackout. The government had shut down internet in the region following protests.
Six months later in October 1st 2017, another internet shutdown followed in the same places for the exact same reason. This was less than 1 month after Cameroon’s Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Minette Libom Li Likeng, was quoted by many media outlets saying no shutdown was going to happen.
In its letter, ONSA also said “every single national security platform in the country rides on the same internet to function”. So shutting down will stall ‘national development and security’.
This too is not exactly true.
Internet shutdowns are not always absolute. They range from partial; like in Cameroon where some parts were down and others working, to slowing down internet speed and just targeting some parts like social media and instant messaging apps.
Generally, the Nigerian government in itself has not inspired much confidence in its citizens to be trusted on matters like this. Recent rights infringement actions that include the arrest of a popular online activist, raiding of another prominent media company amongst other things have set a tone of disbelief.
Shutting down the internet in Africa’s most populous nation will have too many undesirable effects.
In a very Nigerian fashion, citizens are hoping and praying the internet is not shutdown as rumoured. But if it ever happens, there is a guide for staying online.