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The Bird App: Nigeria’s Fourth Emergency ServiceBy Oluchi Egboh on July 4, 2021

Twitter has always been different from the other apps in terms of realism, people are constantly spewing raw and unfiltered opinions on there, everyone’s in a constant feud of your words against mine. I never imagined that Nigerian Twitter would be able to unify its voice for one cause and then the COVID pandemic happened.

 For those of us in uni who were abruptly pulled out of school with no information on how or when we’d be continuing the semester, the initial reaction was sheer joy. We had naively assumed that this meant an early start to summer break, but mother nature and 2020 had a rude shock up their sleeve. The upshot of their big reveal? The announcement of the lockdown in Nigeria on March 30, 2020. The heart-wrenching news plunged the country into a frenzy. A summer without endless concerts and parties is far from the fevered dream the zoomers had just been woken from. Millennials were forced to jettison their favourite pastime of googling the meaning of every zoomer slang and instead adapt to the world of Twitter and social media instead.

Cash Bonanza

At the time twitter just seemed like the right place to vent about the miserable situation, as we progressed into the lockdown things just seemed to get harder. Traditional businesses were shuttered, unemployment was spiking and we were pretty sure those palliatives were a one-time thing that wouldn’t last any family half of the year.

 Businesses on Twitter seemed to be thriving, especially those in food and groceries. Sending gifts anonymously was an emerging Twitter trend that most businesses began to leverage. Endless item giveaways gave the Nigerians something exciting to look forward to. It went from that to cash giveaways – Nigerian Twitter had people doling out money for Twitter actions such as a retweet or a comment. The giveaways had become a sort of backup trust fund that helped the great sapa‘ed.

The SARS Affair

Twitter had become the saving grace for many during the lockdown, but not everyone could stay in the confines of their home living off of intel from Twitter. With a curfew put in place, a little movement began, but soon enough people started to report cases of harassment by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) officers.

Initially, the cases would be tweeted about relentlessly with nothing coming out of it. But as the lockdown wore on Nigerians had time to reflect and they were no longer willing to let sleeping dogs lie. They galvanized and used Twitter to push the #ENDSARS hashtag until it rose to the top of the Twitter charts, eventually spreading to other social media platforms. The cooperation must have come as a shock for the government to see our voices finally unified, weaponizing an app to get justice for those who had been harassed and abused by the SARS officials. Stuck at home with nothing better to do, driving this agenda seemed like the right course of action, and watching it grow from just a bunch of tweets to a full-blown protest gave young Nigerians a sense of fulfillment.


Since it all began on Twitter it was only right that the bird app became the unofficial meeting place for reporting on the activities from the ongoing protests. All reports of unjust arrests were attended to with an urgency that was hitherto unheard of. A whole team of lawyers willingly offered pro bono services, records of those still held were tweeted daily. Nigerian Twitter was doing all in its power to make sure no one was abandoned – it was truly heartwarming to behold!

Tweeted Reports on ENDSARS protest

Tweeted Reports on ENDSARS protest by Omoyele Sowore and others.

From then on more people started to marshal this alternative emergency helpline, especially the vast majority who were in need of justice but had been disenfranchised. The justice system in our country is so rigid and time-consuming, we needed a faster way to reprimand those who have wronged us and the bird app came to the rescue – especially with cases of abuse or sexual assault.

The Birds vs BOLT

At a point in time, numerous cases of Bolt passengers – usually women – being assaulted or attacked by their drivers were being reported to the timeline, you would wonder why report to the Twitter timeline and not the police? The expected reaction from Twitter is that the people would mount pressure on Bolt to take a look into the issue and find a quick solution to reducing these attacks and that is exactly what happened when these cases were reported. On the other hand the Nigerian police would have a much longer procedure which probably has very low chances of actually solving the problem.

Analyzing the situation from the confines of my home it dawned on me that Nigerians only want the best for one another, contrary to the tribal clashes we hear about daily, the Nigerian Twitter community depicts selfless people of various ethnicities joining together to look out for each other.


Twitter user calls out Bolt driver

Twitter user calls out Bolt driver


The Disappeared

Each missing person case reported to the timeline is given rapt attention and you see the people immediately making efforts to locate the victim, people might assume those helping have selfish motives or as they would say on Twitter trying to gain “clout” but in the case of Iniubong Umoren, before discovering that she had been murdered. We witnessed people work hand in hand to uncover her location, offering insights on where she might be as well as offering comfort to her distraught friend. The Nigerian Twitter community had become devastated when they uncovered the truth about what happened to Iniubong they mourned her death for weeks, aggrieved that they had lost one of their own.


Umoh Uduak reaches out for help to find Iniubong Umoren

Umoh Uduak reaches out for help to find Iniubong Umoren

Parting thoughts

For all its positives bird app justice definitely has its downsides, not least the fact that evidence can easily be manipulated. It’s also hard to know what information has been withheld because of the lower publishing bar on the bird app. Like a bullet that can never be recalled, once the information is out the reaction to it is immediate. It is also nigh on impossible to repair reputational damage done to wrongly accused parties. The need to show restraint and reserve judgment has never been higher, especially in situations where there’s not enough evidence to prove the accused guilty. The pace of our justice system has left us with little choice but to take matters into our own hands literally, but we must be responsible and aim to judge people fairly.

Emergency services by their very nature need to always be accessible but On June 5th, 2020 Twitter was abruptly suspended in Nigeria plunging its users into a tweet frenzy. This disruption of service could reduce accessibility to this makeshift emergency service – crucially for those who have come to rely on it for business. The Zikoko Mag, for example, is a purveyor of hilarious and relatable content that uses Twitter as a distribution channel. It will be interesting to keep an eye on their bottom line and how this is affected by the suspension.

The restriction has cut Nigerians off a networking platform that has created numerous golden opportunities for the people and those who aren’t ready to say goodbye to the bird app yet are left with no choice but to make use of VPNs. What are the longer-term consequences for the bird app, its users, and the Nigerian business and political ecosystems? Well, time will tell.

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