The Buhari administration contributed startup cash to Adamu Garba’s Crowwe social media platform, anticipating that the company would enable the government control internal narratives while also posing a serious challenge to Facebook and Twitter for the Nigerian audience, according to Peoples Gazette.
Mr Garba’s IPI Solutions, a software engineering firm controlled by Mr Garba, was the beneficiary of a transfer of monies from the Central Bank of Nigeria to Mr Garba’s IPI Solutions, according to bank documents obtained by The Gazette. Crowwe, a social media app, was created and launched by the company.
According to papers, the CBN deposited N136.8 million to Mr Garba’s IPI Solutions on May 21, 2019, marking one of multiple transfers made by the Buhari administration to Mr Garba in the course of developing the Crowwe app, according to our sources.
Mr Buhari has raged against the detrimental influence of social media since coming to office, while being a key beneficiary of the social media storm that undermined the Jonathan administration and magnified the opposition’s rhetoric ahead of the 2015 presidential election. Mr Buhari began using various measures to govern online speech after realizing the huge power that social media has in affecting public opinion, especially among those with little education or financial means to use the Internet.
Members of his ruling APC pushed a so-called social media bill a few months after taking government in 2015, which civil rights activists felt was too provocative to be allowed in a democratic country. The bill was defeated outright, but the government pushed at least two other comparable proposals through the Bukola Saraki-led legislature, including one that advocated the death sentence for internet expression.
According to people acquainted with the situation, immediately after narrowly securing a second term, Mr Buhari agreed with his advisors that it was important to manage social media. Several strategies were proposed to ensure that the government’s message dominated public space with little to no opposition from residents.
“It was while the government was trying to find ways to control the media space that Adamu Garba’s company was picked as one of the promising businesses that could proffer solutions,” an administration official said. “The seriousness of controlling social media cannot be overplayed.”
Mr Garba earned instant name recognition in 2018 after showing interest in running for president against Mr Buhari. He summarily abandoned his campaign and became a recognisable voice in support of the president. The regime provided hundreds of millions to Mr Garba’s firm in anticipation that its Crowwe platform would make a sufficient dent on the appeal of Facebook and Twitter.
But two years after funding began and several months after Crowwe was introduced to the public, the app has not appealed to Nigerians on the scale expected by both the regime and its developers. Only a few thousands users have signed up, and even then the app has been riddled with complaints around its functionality.
As part of efforts to give life to Crowwe, Mr Garba sought to push Twitter out of Nigeria, filing a lawsuit against the platform in the wake of last October’s historic #EndSARS campaign. More than any other social media rivals, Mr Garba saw Twitter’s presence in Nigeria as an existential threat to his own platform and assumed its exit would push Nigerians to his own platform by default.
The presidency did not return a request seeking comments from The Gazette about its dealings with Mr Garba. Mr Garba confirmed to The Gazette that he received funds from the government, but said it was one of several payments the government paid for a series of “intervention” projects his company executed for the government.
Crowwe was “100 per cent developed by us internally,’’ Mr Adamu added. “We are even looking for investors locally and internationally. We are looking for investors to further scale up and improve Crowwe capacity.”