#EndSARS Protests: 6 reasons Buhari cannot afford to shut down the internet in Nigeria [Pulse Contributor's Opinion]
As the #EndSARS protest continues through its second week, without hope of resolution from both sides, there is widespread fear that Nigeria’s leaders may consider a total internet shutdown soon.
It is possible for the Nigerian government to pull the plug on the country's internet. The means and the motivation are both there. Although this is unprecedented, our democratic antecedents suggest a possibility for government to do so. There are already rumors circulating about this. Nigeria has never experienced a complete internet shutdown before, but a handful of other African countries have successfully disrupted the internet against protesters in the past.
But, the big question is, "can Nigeria really afford to block the internet"? I think not. Disrupting the internet access across Nigeria in 2020 can definitely pose dire consequences which will be far beyond the short term benefits that can be derived from such action. Such moves by the government would be quite like cutting your nose to spite your face: very needless meddlesomeness.
Here are six reasons I think a total internet shutdown should not be attempted:
1. It will damage our legacy as the ‘Largest Democracy in Africa’.
Nigeria is not just the largest nation in Africa but also the largest democracy across the black world by the peculiarity of its population. This imposes a natural role to set the pace as a bastion of democracy upon the country. Furthermore, Nigeria is a key player in African democracy with a huge image to protect.
Considering also that the country is struggling to redeem its democratic credentials and reestablish itself as a true democracy, it will be foolhardy to sacrifice the international goodwill it has left just to shutdown protesters.
2. It will hurt ‘Africa's Biggest Economy’.
Nigeria is by far the largest economy in Africa and a sizeable chunk of this economy is propelled by the digital technology which the Minister of Communication, Isa Patanmi says accounts for a whopping 14.07 percent of the total GDP. With such reality, any onslaught on the nation's internet will definitely bring that part of the economy to its knees, leading to loss in billions and a disruption of the business ecosystem that will have huge consequences.
Already the economy is projected to further contract as the world gradually finds its feet after months of a global coronavirus lockdown. Nigeria knows it cannot afford to further economic losses, and certainly not one as huge as 14 percent of its GDP.
3. The tech-reliant Banking Sector will suffer.
One sector that is set up to suffer from internet shutdown is the banking sector which accounts for a decent chunk of the Nigerian stock exchange. With a robust mobile money market worth 5.1 trillion Naira according to data by the Inter-bank Settlement Scheme, an internet shutdown will lead to a serious dip on Nigeria’s already overstressed finances.
Nigerian banks’ continuous reliance on mobile banking and internet propelled services mean that internet disruption will end banking activities and render most parts of the economy largely inoperative.
4. It will be the death of many Vibrant SMEs.
Thousands of SMEs spread across the country are heavily reliant on the internet. A tactical or complete ban on internet can affect this part of the economy, leading to serious job losses, retrenchment and liquidation of businesses, both in the formal and informal sectors. Coupled with a COVID-19 induced recession looming in the air, a situation like this can lead to serious economic consequences that may further aggravate the current unrest across the country.
5. It will lead to International Backlash and Condemnation.
The international community continues to show keen interest in Nigeria's affairs. The recent blacklisting of names of alleged election manipulators in Nigeria by countries such as the USA, UK, etc. illustrates this. With the current situation gaining massive support from influencers, celebrities and organizations around the world, it is clear that the #EndSARS protest is not just about Nigeria and Nigerians anymore.
The world is silently watching out to see how the situation will be addressed. And as demonstrated earlier, excessive abuse of human rights will not be completely allowed without international sanctions. We already have too much on our hands to ask for more negative consequences.
6. It is Unconstitutionality and Illegal.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria grants the rights of Nigerians to personal liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of association and the right to hold an opinion among other rights. It is thereof unconstitutional to stop the citizenry from holding a peaceful protest through internet shutdown.
Considering the foregoing, the Nigerian government has no option than to dialogue. Although it's arguable that the #EndSARS protest has brought hardship to commuters and other sections of the society, disrupting the internet or trying to silence the protests may definitely blow things out of proportion. Besides, in many democratic countries, protests like these are seen as parts of the elements that deepen true democracy. Nigeria cannot be different.
Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.
About the author: Victor Winners is an author and blogger with a Diploma in Information Technology and an LL.B in Law (Hons.). Victor helps micro businesses to leverage the digital economy to grow their businesses with his knowledge of content marketing, web design and digital strategy.