Nigeria is having a bad spring. Rebel groups are active in at least three regions, including the southern areas where people tried in the 1960s to create the separate state of Biafra. A week ago, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted this:
Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.
Twitter quickly deleted the post for violating its rules against fomenting violence.
Which makes me wonder; when you're the President of a country where rebels kill and kidnap your citizens every day, isn't threatening violence sometimes part of your job? Seems to me completely appropriate for the President to remind rebels and their supporters where their actions might lead.
Twitter is of course a private company free to decide for themselves what messages they will ban, but this decision still seems very odd to me. Threats are part of the normal language of diplomacy. The President is known to be in contact with political leaders in the south, figuring out how to deal with rebels and work on the people's grievances. Who is Twitter to decide what threats are not acceptable in that situation?
The President responded by banning Twitter. Commentators say the removal of his tweet was just a pretext, and that he has wanted to do this for some time because political separatists are using Twitter to organize their movements. Which means that Twitter allows political grievances to be aired, so long as they don't openly threaten violence, even if they point much more directly toward civil war than anything the president said.
And let me take this opportunity to wonder about Nigeria. By some metrics Nigeria is thriving. The economy is growing, inflation is under control, and the country's arts scene is one of the most vibrant in the world. Whatever art interests you, from film to abstract painting to traditional sculpture to every sort of music, Nigerians are making tons of it. They have a democratic government and a rambunctious press. And yet they have terrible problems as well: corruption on a gigantic scale, criminal violence, terrorism, political turmoil. How do these things coexist?
I suppose it is an old story; from Renaissance Italy to Southern Song China, the most artistically creative periods have often been eras of violence and turmoil. But I still find it very confusing.