TikTok has seen several viral success stories in Nigeria. Content creators speak about the impact any restriction on the app might have on them.
The TikTok app enjoys widespread popularity worldwide for its innovative short-form video-sharing features that have transformed everyday individuals – leading seemingly normal lives – into viral sensations and overnight celebrities.
In Nigeria, Africa’s biggest and most populous economy, too, it has made creators – lucky enough to garner a following – millions of dollars.
The platform’s most-followed creators are known to reportedly command as much as $500,000 for a single post on the app and marketing companies simply cannot get enough.
In 2021, the country had issued a ban on the app on the basis of concerns regarding the “use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”. This was according to the national communications regulator. But the ban was soon lifted.
The country is now reportedly taking a more stringent stance against TikTok and other internet intermediaries, asking them to operate under a number of conditions or face a complete ban.
According to a directive by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in Nigeria, TikTok, and other internet intermediaries, are to, among other things, establish a legal entity in Nigeria, appoint a designated country representative to interface with Nigerian authorities, abide by all regulatory demands, and comply with all applicable tax obligations, or risk getting banned.
“A lot of young people earn from social media and TikTok. A lot of music promotion [is] done on TikTok and it has created extra income for young people to fend for themselves. It will affect a lot of young people if the app gets banned,” says Enioluwa Prince Adeoluwa, who goes by the moniker ‘Eni’ on social media, and has a following of about 1.9 million on TikTok.
“It also gives people a very big sense of hope. TikTok helps bridge [the] gap to music. You don’t need a lot of money or fancy equipment like a ring light or a studio or a professional camera to succeed on TikTok or to go viral. If TikTok is banned it removes the access for an average individual to have that breakthrough.”
Eni’s big break came during the Covid lockdown period when a video he created on the platform, where he donned lip gloss and provided a satirical account on topics in Nigeria, went viral.
“I was probably one of the first group of people on TikTok in Nigeria. A team member of TikTok reached out to me to make TikToks and said that it will help reach other audiences, and that was very impressionable to me as a creator. I would wake up and see 100,000 followers and that was great for me, and that helped me create more TikToks. With the app, you can have 5,000 followers and have videos that get millions of views. People are not as conscious about following other people like they are on Instagram. With TikTok, people just follow each other without any pressure,” says Eni.
Others corroborate his sentiment.
“I have about 1.6 million followers on TikTok and as a result I have over 20 brands who pay me as an influencer to help sell and promote their brands on my platform. These brands range from skincare brands all the way to waist trainers,” says Anita Natacha Akide, an influencer and serial entrepreneur in Lagos popularly known as ‘Symply Tacha’ on social media.
The app has also helped launch her successful career as a reality TV star. Some of her credits include Big Brother Naija and the American reality TV series The Challenge. In addition, her growing presence on the app has also meant Nollywood has come knocking.
“I have two movies coming out in 2023 all thanks to TikTok because on the app you can show so many different sides of your personality. I have landed four movies already so far thanks to the app. As long as you are being funny you will keep multiplying your followers. Social media has been my full-time job since 2016,” says Symply Tacha.
One of the biggest draws of the app is its ability to give the average person the tools to go viral. Take Khabane ‘Khaby’ Lame for example, one of the most followed accounts on the platform with over 161 million followers. Lame went from being a factory worker to becoming a brand ambassador for Hugo Boss with his face plastered on billboards all over the world, by simply mocking other people’s videos.
With all its pros, it was a big surprise for all the creators when the parent company of TikToK, ByteDance, started receiving banning threats from the Trump administration in 2020. It cited concerns of a security breach due to the company being Chinese-owned.
Very soon other countries followed suit, claiming security and privacy concerns.
On June 4 last year, the Nigerian government suspended social media platform, Twitter, and only reinstated the app on condition that it implemented the new NITDA directive for internet companies in the country, some seven months later.
For many influencers who are making a living on TikTok, these are tense times and a ban will also spell disaster for a number of ancillary industries.
“TikTok influencers are signing up as brand ambassadors to create content. Through laughing, we are also indirectly selling a product and TikTok works well with this. Banning TikTok will have a huge negative impact because a huge percentage of influencers use the platform to make a living,” says Symply Tacha.
“Restricting these people will make it harder for African creators to succeed. Rema featuring Selena Gomez, for example, was pushed and succeeded, globally, because of TikTok and that shows the power of the app.”