Nigeria’s coming election: countering the threat of internet shutdowns and online censorship

Update 2/19/2019: Elections have now been postponed and are expected to take place February 23, 2019.


There are only two days left before Nigeria’s much-anticipated general elections on February 16, 2019. Many Nigerians fear that there will be internet shutdowns, bandwidth throttling, social media blocking, and other forms of censorship. To the government’s credit, the Office of the National Security Adviser to the President has publicly stated that there will be no attempt to interfere with internet access, as election officials will be using the same infrastructure to transmit voting results.

The global #KeepItOn coalition has sent the government a letter to welcome and confirm its commitment to ensuring a free and open internet during the elections and beyond, and we have further called upon officials to do more to clarify that intention. Statements like this one by a former governor in Nigeria, who warns of a plot to cut access to the internet, are deeply worrying to the public, whether or not they are based on facts. We urge the government to take concrete steps to counter the fear of a shutdown or censorship by once again publicly confirming Nigeria’s commitment to keeping the internet on and accessible.

In the event that there is deliberate interference with internet access, such as attempts to slow connections, throttle, or jam networks, it may be difficult to document. That is because interference could turn out to be highly localized. There are more than 84 million registered voters in over 36 states across Nigeria. The way that these voters and others experience the internet on election day will depend on which neighborhood, city, or state they live in and the mobile service provider they use. There may be big or small differences in the way a voter in Kano and a voter in Port Harcourt access and use the internet given these factors.

This means we may not be able to establish during the elections the extent to which Nigerians are impacted by a shutdown or censorship. However, voters in Nigeria can assist in monitoring the situation, documenting interference, and countering any attempts at online censorship, which would represent  a violation of the fundamental rights to free expression and access to information to which all Nigerians are entitled.

If you are in Nigeria, you can:

Prepare in advance. Install these VPNs just in case certain websites or social media platforms are blocked.

Test for censorship on your network. You can install and run the OONI app (Google Play or App Store) and run the NetBlocks Scanner from your browser to test which websites and social media platforms may be blocked.

Note: These tests require turning off VPNs and entail potential risks. For example, anyone monitoring your internet activity (e.g. ISP, government, employer) would be able to see that you are running OONI Probe or NetBlocks scans. If you decide to run these tests, we would recommend reading more about potential risks, closing all your browser tabs and other applications before turning your VPN off, and turning your VPN back on as soon as the probe tests are complete.

Tell us what you see. The #KeepItOn coalition is monitoring the situation in Nigeria. If you cannot access websites or social media platforms, or if your internet access becomes exceptionally slow, tweet at us using #KeepItOn or email  [email protected] and we will do our best to let the world know.

As a final note, we encourage local organizations to join the #KeepItOn coalition to help fight internet shutdowns. You can learn more here.