Nigerians wary govt. will block internet access to stifle freedom of expression & access to information as elections approach

Author: Yomi Kazeem, Quartz Africa, Published on: 5 February 2019

Author, Yomi Kazeem, OUARTZ AFRICA, Published January 28 2019

“Nigerians are worried about an internet shutdown as tensions rise in the run-up to elections” 28 January

You can tell fears of an internet shutdown are running high in a country when citizens are looking into methods of staying online in case of a blockage. This past weekend, Quartz Africa's guide to staying online during internet or social media blockages was our most read story, driven entirely by traffic from Nigeria. Scores of people shared concerns on social media at the possibility Nigeria might follow other African countries that have taken to blocking social media or shut down the internet altogether under the guise of security concerns...While there is little evidence authorities are planning a shutdown, fears have been triggered by the potential of a constitutional crisis after Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari suddenly suspended the country's chief justice over corruption allegations last Friday.

...If protests break out amid the crisis, many fear the government will resort to cutting off internet access or specifically blocking access to platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter. ...If there was an internet shutdown in Nigeria it would be the latest in a long list of similar disruptions across Africa over the past five years, especially during elections or amid protests. Governments have typically defended the action as a means to avoid the spread of misinformation or, as in the recent case of Zimbabwe, to"restore calm"...

But with younger Africans increasingly more vocal and critical of leaders especially through social media, the shutdowns can also be viewed as modern day censorship. Digital rights activists have consistently argued that disruptions to internet access are repressive while studies also show the shutdowns take a heavy toll on African economies. Regardless, this month alone, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and DR Congo all blocked internet access amid elections and anti-government protests. The shutdowns are also getting longer: Chad Republic has now kept social media shut for over 300 days and counting.

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