During this past week, government released a statement, detailing the officials that will engage Twitter on the ban it imposed on the giant American high-tech company. The team is made up of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed as the Chairman.
Others include, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Patami; the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo and other representatives from unspecified relevant government agencies, which I suspect could be Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC and National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, among others. As the team is preparing to meet the Twitter people, may I humbly remind the team to know the kind of person the head of Twitter is, if they don’t know already.
Jack Dorsey, the founder and CEO of Twitter, is a tough cookie. For one thing, he has money. Lots of it. With a net worth of $13.8 billion (about N6.9 trillion), as at Friday 25 June 2021, he’s richer than Africa’s richest man, our own Aliko Dangote, who’s real time net worth, also as at Friday, stood at $11.9 billion (about N5.95 trillion). And when you are as rich as Jack, number 173 on the list of richest people in the world, you are in a comfort zone and in a powerful position in any negotiation.
For another, he’s got guts. For someone, who after meeting sitting President Donald Trump, face-to-face in the Oval Office, in April 2019, to discuss Trump’s concern that Twitter had been treating him unfairly, to still go ahead and permanently delete the account of the politically strongest man in the world, says a lot about the bravery of the 44 years old Jack. Don’t forget that Trump had the capacity then to influence the de-registration of Twitter, yet Jack was unperturbed and went ahead to do what he did to Trump. So long as Trump violated the rules of engagement with Twitter, Jack didn’t give a hoot if Trump had suddenly become the world’s physically strongest person in addition to his military and political capabilities.
In the business world, Jack is as a tough negotiator as they come. Some years back, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, made an approach to acquire the fast-exploding Twitter. The Facebook owner thought he would find it as easy as he was able to acquire both WhatsApp and Instagram. But not only did Mark find Jack irritated about his offer, Mark actually left the negotiating table with his tails between his legs. So, our team had better prepare well for a tough session with Jack.
I noticed that four of the six Ministers in the negotiation team, are lawyers. As a matter of fact, there are three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs in the team, with the Chairman, Lai Mohammed being the exception. (As a reminder, SAN is the highest title conferred on legal practitioners in Nigeria, equivalent to a Queen’s Counsel in the United Kingdom. It is conferred on those who have distinguished themselves in the profession. I therefore find it amusing that Mohammed who is not a SAN, is leading a team in which there are three SANs. But that is not the kernel of this discussion, so let’s not digress). With four lawyers in a team of six, the tendency is to think the main discussion with Twitter will be law. Yes, laws of both sides will definitely be discussed, but our team is better advised that negotiation will be hard and tough. Nigerians, especially the youths, who constitute about 60% of our population, need Twitter more than Twitter needs Nigeria. Yes, business wise, Twitter is losing, but we are losing more. And the earlier our negotiators realize this and tailor their discussion towards amicable resolutions and not act cocky, the better for us.
I’m not suggesting we go and cringe before Jack. No. Far from it. Afterall, if you look at the genesis of this standoff critically, Twitter had not been entirely inviolable. The Nigerian government had on few occasions in the past, complained to Twitter of allowing its platform to be used by those whom the government described as irredentists, but Twitter had always ignored the complaint, hiding under the brouhaha that it is a free-speech platform. Even before Twitter permanently deleted Trump’s account, it engaged him, warned him, suspended his account before it reached finality on the account of the former President. No such dignity was availed the Nigerian President by Twitter before deleting a tweet that it finds offensive to its rule on his handle. Does it mean what is good for the goose is no longer good for the gander?
Why was it a case of one set of rules for one President and another set for another President? Whatever the opinion of anyone may be, including that of Twitter, Muhammadu Buhari is the President of not just any country but the President of the largest concentration of black people in the whole world, in which one of her citizens is the 191st richest person in the world, another one is the Director General of World Trade Organization, who was also a former board member of Twitter, another one is the 2-term President of Africa Development Bank and home to the largest number of Professors in divergent disciplines in Africa. To just delete a tweet of the President of such a country, without any prior engagement with any officials of that government, is a big ridicule and insult to that government. So, the government has a valid grouse.
But where the government lost the sympathy of majority of Nigerians, is because of the actual incident that necessitated the ban and other related underline factors. It took the deletion of the President’s tweet by Twitter for government to act. Must government act only when it affects government officials? Is government no longer of the people, by the people and for the people? What happened to ‘I’m for everybody and I’m for nobody’?. And Nigerians became enraged about the ban, also because it betrayed the plan of government to push ahead with its agenda to “regulate” (ban, is the translation of Nigerians) the social media through a bill, currently before the National Assembly. If government had been transparent and deal with Nigerians with their cards face up, I tell you Nigerians would have rallied behind their leaders in this impasse with Twitter. As it is, government has to fight this fight alone. And if they have the love of their governed, especially the highly tech-savvy youths, at heart, they will pocket some pride and meet Twitter half way in their negotiation. Best of luck.