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EXPLAINER: Network freeze is not a network shutdown or outage

MTN Nigeria has announced a network freeze during the forthcoming general elections in the country; this is not a network shutdown or outage. What is it?

EXPLAINER: Network freeze is not a network shutdown or outage
SORO SOKE means Speak Up; a political slogan that was used during EndSARS protests in Nigeria. Credit: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu 

Some of the campaigns ahead of Nigeria's general elections have been fueled by misinformation. With less than 48 hours to presidential and federal legislators elections, misinformation is at its peak.

Following MTN Nigeria's announcement of Network Freeze during the elections this weekend and between March 10-15, 2023, several Nigerians have misinterpreted this as an "outage or shutdown". Why? At least 52 African elections have been affected by internet shutdowns between 2016 and 2021, and 1 in 4 Africans was affected by internet shutdowns in 2022.

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According to Surfshark’s internet censorship annual recap, 4.2 billion people were affected by mass internet censorship in 2022 globally. Asia accounts for nearly half of all new cases in 2022, while Africa comes in second.
"Through the past year, we’ve seen how governments have used internet shutdowns and telecommunications blackouts as a tool of repression and control, silencing journalists, civil society, and the general public," Alp Toker, Director, NetBlocksw, said in a statement shared by Benjamindada.com in January 2023.

However, another reason for the reason could be because of the word; freeze.

In telecoms parlance,  Network Freeze refers to the suspension of any core maintenance or updates that would cause a network outage; only emergency changes are allowed to be implemented on the network during this period.

This means that the network is expected to be stable and available during this period. "We do not implement changes on our network during critical times to minimise the chance of an outage," MTN Nigeria said in a tweet.

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On Feb. 14, 2023, MTN Nigeria users experienced a nationwide shutdown which was linked to sabotage of the company's infrastructure in 13 locations across the country.

The network glitch led to disruptions of the internet, voice calls and bank transactions by subscribers in different parts of the country for hours.

With over 89 million users, MTN is the largest network infrastructure provider in Nigeria.

The internet is playing a critical role in the forthcoming elections. For instance, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) requires an internet connection to function efficiently; this is the same for the uploading of polling units results to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) in real-time.

Earlier this month, a coalition of over 300 organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns, #KeepItOn Coalition asked Nigeria's President, Muhammadu Buhari "to ensure that the internet, social media platforms, and all other communication channels remain free, open, secure, inclusive, and accessible prior to, during, and after the general election."

According to the KeepItOn Coalition, "the internet and social media platforms play a critical role in enhancing participatory governance and promoting the realization of fundamental human rights in a democratic society. These platforms provide spaces for communicating, public debate, seeking information on electoral processes and candidates, reporting and documenting events and outcomes, conducting political campaigns, relaying election results, and holding governments accountable for their actions."

Recall that in June 2021, the Buhari-led administration banned Twitter in the country, two days after the social media company deleted the president's tweet for violating its policy. Access to Twitter in Nigeria was suspended until January 2022.  

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