Marvelous Ekenna, a Lagos-based talent manager and music executive, has lost N10 million worth of business deals since Twitterwas banned in Nigeria.
Besides, the ban affected his employees and the industry value chain that depends on him.
“I’ve lost clients and contracts worth 10 million. The people I work with have lost jobs as well. I can’t pay them. This has a ripple effect. I lose clients, and my people don’t eat. It’s crazy we are losing jobs because we lack access to the platform,” said Ekenna.
Back in June, the Nigerian government banned twitter operations in the country indefinitely over what the ministry of information calls “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
The suspension came two days after the microblogging site deleted a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari’s account for violating Twitter rules.
Counting the cost
Edward Israel-Ayinde, the founder of Carpe Diem Solutions, a PR agency in Lagos, lost a massive gig with a client who was just about to start a campaign that targeted Twitter users at the time.
“We lost revenue that would have come out from the campaign. We are a PR agency that depends on the platform to push campaigns. There is a lot of revenue that has been lost from influencers to media organisations. It is huge,” he said.
The latest data from the Netblocks Cost of Shutdown Tool has shown the cost of the Twitter ban on Nigeria’s economy. Nigeria has lost $250,600 (N103.17m) every hour since the suspension of Twitter. In the past 100 days, the country has lost over $600 million in revenue.
Beyond the loss of revenue for brands, the ban on Twitter presents another challenge everyone seems to overlook.
Twitter Influencers and content creators wield more influence than Twitter advertising platforms. Big brands go after micro or big influencers to execute projects because they understand their target audience rather than Twitter paid promotion.
Adesokan Adedeji, an influencer popularly known as “Shankcomics” told Guardian Life how the ban has affected his work and income.
“I am a social media influencer on Twitter and this is where thousands of influencers, including me, earn a living. This ban has placed a pause on my income. No brand wants to promote their businesses knowing the government made a law not to be active on the social platform. Bad engagement, bad reach for their businesses.”
In addition, there’s a huge value chain that assists both influencers and content creators to amplify brand stories far better than Twitter paid promotion. The ban has thousands of them unemployed for months, and this has an effect on the employment rate in Nigeria.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s unemployment rate climbed to 32.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 from 27 per cent a year ago. With the ban still in place, the number is likely to increase by 2022.
“When the government looks at the ban on Twitter, they look at it from the angle of people advertising on Twitter so they can accept our demands like paying taxes, but the reality is that a lot more people use influencer marketing than advertise on Twitter. For every influencer, agency, business, there are so many value chains that depend on these people’s success on platforms like Twitter,” Israel-Ayinde said.
From an economic standpoint, most of the businesses affected by the Twitter ban represent Nigeria’s SMEs.
According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s SMEs contribute about 50% of the country’s GDP and account for over 80% of employment in the country.
In the past three months, a ban on the platform that provides them access to a steady market has kept some businesses in limbo.
Oluwatosin Akande, a vendor selling men’s shoes and accessories on Twitter, told Guardian Life his revenue has slowed down in the last three months.
When the microblogging platform was active, he processes a minimum order worth N100,000 weekly. Since the ban, sales of shoes and other men’s accessories have slowed down. It has also taken a dip in his revenue.
In 2018, Akande gathered a cult of loyal customers, mostly working-class men, to patronise his products every week.
“Twitter is a huge platform that brings serious sales week in week out,” he said. “You don’t even need to spend too much on advertising. You can promote your products under some threads or jump on trends by using viral hashtags to promote your products. Customers will surely locate you.”
However, since the ban, he’s been forced to adopt Facebook and Instagram to sell his products, spending more foreign currency on promotional ads.
“It’s costly,” he tells me. Using dollars to pay for ads is not easy, especially with the Naira crash against dollars. Even the conversion [from viewers to customers] is slow sometimes. People will scroll through, unlike on Twitter, where you can hold their attention through conversation within threads.”
Following its ban in June, the Nigerian government, in a bid to uplift its restrictions in Nigeria, placed some requirements before the Twitter team, including setting up a local office and paying tax locally.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture said this week that the government would uplift the Twitter ban in a “few more days,” igniting hopes of entrepreneurs who have lost businesses and revenue without the platform.
Port Harcourt based fashion designer, Miracle Emeka-Nkwor, started her clothing brand “Omaji designs” in 2020. She used Twitter as a platform to grow customers and sales before it was banned in June. With the government set to uplift the ban, Emeka-Nkwor reacts to the news with mixed feelings.
“I’ve lost access to customers and steady revenue because of the ban. While I’m excited about the news of the government lifting the ban, will there be a guarantee that this won’t happen again? Also, is there a system that will protect the interests of small businesses using Twitter?” she said.
In developed countries, there are policies that provide access to relief opportunities for businesses with no financial cushion.
Interestingly, the Nigerian government provides access to loans for MSMEs through different government agencies. There’s access to loans through the Bank of Industry (BOI), the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that SMEs can explore.
For instance, the Bank of Industry (BOI) SME loan presents small businesses with an opportunity to bounce back to access up to 5 million Naira.
However, some of the alternative financing by the government is often limited to SMEs in manufacturing and processing activities.
“There’s also an issue of collateral and that discourages me from applying for government loans,” Emeka-Nkwor said when asked if she would consider government loans.
How will businesses bounce back
With plans to restore access to Twitter in Nigeria, businesses are set to make a comeback. During the ban, Nigerian brands deployed alternative social media platforms to market products and services, but leveraging other platforms like Facebook and Instagram often comes with an additional cost. It is often not a conversational tool for service based businesses.
Twitter gives businesses an opportunity to engage in a very holistic conversation with customers and clients. SMEs also use twitter as a customer service unit where they respond to questions and concerns in real time.
According to NOI polls, over 39 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, that is more than Ghana’s entire population, 32 million. It’s also a platform big enough for businesses to promote their business for free using trends or leveraging a huge list of followers to sell products and services.
For Ekenna, a return to Twitter will provide access to the conversational feature his business has been missing out on.
“While I’ve lost money and clients in the past few months, I’m excited to use Twitter freely again, that’s if the government lifts the ban as they have promised. Gaining access to Twitter will be pivotal to my business. That has been the missing link for three months,” said Ekenna.
The past few months have been challenging for Israel-Ayinde who depends hugely on Twitter to gather customer insights. His agency has lost opportunities to run some media campaigns, given that some of these campaigns are tied to specific annual projects and plans by clients. For three months, the campaigns stopped, taking a huge dent on his company’s finances.
However, he is hoping to bounce back with his team when the ban is lifted.
“We are confident that the lifting of the ban will see brands return with campaigns that might have been shelved due to the ban,” he said with an air of certainty.