NIGERIA’S attorney-general and justice minister Abubakar Malami has made a U-turn and rescinded his recent decision to prosecute any Nigerian who uses the Twitter social platform in defiance of the federal government’s ban.
Earlier this month, the federal government announced an indefinite suspension of Twitter’s activities in Nigeria following a row during which the social media platform deleted a tweet from President Buhari. He had threatened secessionists in the southeast geo-political zone with war in response to their agitation for an independent state, which Twitter said contravened its rules.
Despite the ban, millions of Nigerians have continued to use Twitter, including state governors, clergymen and celebrities who have been using virtual private networks (VPN) to access the site. Mr Malami had threatened to drag all those flouting the ban to court but given how impractical this is, the government has decided to drop the idea.
Instead, the government will go after those who are helping Nigerians circumvent the ban. Mr Malami had purportedly directed the director of public prosecution, to begin the process of prosecuting those still tweeting but has now conceded that Nigerians have a right to tweet from anywhere in the world.
Mr Malami said: “It is within their guaranteed fundamental right to tweet from anywhere in the world. Nigeria, being a democratic nation, cannot stop its citizens from exercising their rights of freedom of expression.
“But our position on Twitter is clear. Anyone, whether individual or corporate institution that enables Twitter to circumvent the ban the Federal Government of Nigeria placed on the company, will be prosecuted.”
He also added that at no time did the government threaten to arrest any religious leader over the use of Twitter. Evangelical clergymen in particular have been very active in using Twitter to spread their messages, especially in the light of Covid-19 restrictions that have prevented them holding massive congregations.