Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has ordered the immediate prosecution of Nigerians who attempt to circumvent the Federal Government’s ban on Twitter operations in the country.
In furtherance of this, the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) has been directed to commence in earnest the process of prosecuting of violators of the ban in Nigeria.
A statement by the Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations to the AGF, Dr. Umar Gwandu, yesterday, said Malami directed the DPPF to liaise with the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, National Communication Commission (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders.
The directive followed the indefinite suspension placed on Twitter’s operations in the country by the government. The suspension was announced in a statement by the Ministry of Information and Culture on Friday.
“The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria,” read the statement, which was posted on the ministry’s official Twitter handle on Friday evening. It accused the American social media company of allowing its platform to be used “for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
The suspension came two days after Twitter deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari, which the global microblogging site said was widely perceived as offensive and a contravention of Twitter’s rules strengthened in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s use of the platform to incite violence and attack on the United States Congress on January 6, 2021, following his loss of the November 3, 2020 presidential election.
In the tweet that prompted the action taken by Twitter to delete it, President Buhari, on Tuesday, threatened to deal with people in the country’s southeast, whom he blamed for the recurring attacks on public infrastructure in the region.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” Buhari wrote, referring to the brutal 30-month Nigeria-Biafra war, which killed an estimated one to three million people, mostly from the Igbo tribe between 1967-1970.
Buhari’s tweet was deleted on Wednesday after many Nigerians flagged it to Twitter, and the platform said it had violated its policy on abusive behaviour.
Responding to the ban placed on its operations in the country, Twitter said in a statement: “We are deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria. Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society. We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world.”
As reactions continue to trail the indefinite suspension of Twitter by the Buhari administration, Oyo State governor, ‘Seyi Makinde, has counseled the Federal Government of Nigeria not to hamper the operations of thousands of businesses and services with its recent suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria, stressing that the government is capable of affecting investors’ confidence in the country.
Governor Makinde, in a statement he signed yesterday, called for due consideration from the government on the implications of its action, saying that “Twitter has become the platform for young people and indeed all Nigerians to exercise their fundamental right to express and publish an opinion.”
The governor, who has a strong presence on Twitter, said it became imperative for him to make the statement as the country debates the ban.
His words: “It has become imperative for me to release a statement regarding the suspension of Twitter’s operations in Nigeria by the Federal Government. As leaders, we should go beyond emotional reactions to issues and think about how our actions will affect the people we lead, and our international ratings, socially and economically.
“Twitter has become the platform for young people and indeed all Nigerians to exercise their fundamental right to express and publish an opinion. They use the platform to complain, argue and give feedback to government and its agencies, which in turn use these to improve policies. This is a fundamental point that should be kept in mind as we debate the necessity of this suspension.
“We should also remember that Twitter has gone beyond a source of communication for many of our hardworking youths in Nigeria. It has become a source of livelihood for many, irrespective of their political affiliations or religious leanings. Nigerian youths and digital communications organisations earn a living from being able to use the platform to post communications on behalf of their clients.
“Others who may not have physical stores also rely on Twitter to give visibility to their products and services.
“Furthermore, I believe the Federal Government should be actively interested in how certain policies and actions will affect investor confidence. I, therefore, use this medium to appeal to the Federal Government to reverse this suspension for the greater good of Nigerians.”
In the wake of the enforcement of the ban on the micro-blogging app by telecom companies as directed by the Nigerian Communications Commission on Friday, thousands of Twitter users in Nigeria are currently gnashing their teeth while the development has continued to elicit reactions within Nigeria and overseas with many describing the move as draconian and undemocratic.
Commenting on the development, firebrand lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Mike Ozhekome, condemned the ban saying that Twitter was one of the few places where Nigerians could freely express their grievances.
“Well, I am not surprised that the Federal Government has suspended Twitter operations in Nigeria. Are you? I have always said that this government has a very thin skin for criticism. It is a government that cannot take punches, but delights in always giving punches to adversaries, real or imaginary,” the lawyer said.
“The government knows that Nigerians now express their resentment and protest through Twitter, by telling the whole world how Nigeria has been turned into a corruption haven, and a sprawling field of butchery, extra-judicial executions and slaughtering. Those in government do not want the world to hear about their atrocities.
Former Vice President of Nigeria, Mr Atiku Abubakar, who tweeted few minutes after the indefinite suspension was announced on Friday expressed shock at the development, adding: “Hopefully, this won’t be my last tweet.”
Similarly the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in a statement by its President, Kabiru A. Yusuf, expressed strong reservation over the decision of the Federal Government, saying that the suspension of Twitter’s operation by Nigerian is wrong and an overreaction.
The statement read in part: “The action would not win us friends as closure of public space limits public discourse and democratic advancement. It is a futile exercise in any case, as other platforms are more likely to suspect Nigeria’s intentions towards democratic tenets and act in an adversarial manner towards Nigeria.
“Twitter is a global platform for public communication that has expanded the frontiers of free speech and press freedom. It is a platform for business that has brought relief to Nigeria’s youthful population that has prospered by its operation. The NPAN believes Twitter, as a business, is not infallible and can be influenced through high-level engagement, to be a more responsive, liberal platform of public good and not a cynical champion of suspicious causes.
“There should be a compromise: Nigeria needs friends and not enemies at this critical juncture of her existence. She should not play into the hands of the enemies who are relentless in seeking to destroy and ostracise her.”