Nigerians can now be arrested and prosecuted for tweeting following ban on Twitter, government orders

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Following the ban on Twitter by the Nigerian government on Friday June 4, the government has ordered federal prosecutors to arrest and prosecute anyone found still using the Twitter app. The order goes into effect immediately.

Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, issued the directive Saturday in a statement signed on his behalf by his spokesman, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu.

“Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) at the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria,” it read.

The national broadcasting regulator, NBC, had also been told to begin “licensing all internet streaming services and social media operations in Nigeria”, a government statement said.

Nigeria announced the “indefinite suspension” of Twitter’s operations in the country on Friday, two days after the social media platform deleted a tweet by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari that was widely perceived as offensive.

Buhari had tweeted, “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.”

Nigeria said on Saturday that the removal of the President’s was “disappointing”, but was not the only reason for the “temporary” suspension.

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“There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real world violent consequences,” the government said.

Nigerian government also said that Twitter was being used to undermine “Nigeria’s corporate existence”.

The platform was allowing “the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages” that “could tear some countries apart”, a spokesperson said.

Reacting to the development, Twitter said the ban which was announced Friday by Nigeria’s Minister of Information Lai Mohammed was “deeply concerning”.

Twitter declared access to its platform a ‘human right’, prompting conservatives to accuse the tech giant of hypocrisy after it banned former U.S President Donald Trump and others for violating its terms of service.

“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,” Twitter said in a statement on Saturday.

“We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. #KeepitOn.”

The Twitter ban in Nigeria has so far received widespread condemnation from human rights groups and international powers, who say it will limit free speech in Nigeria.

In a statement posted on its website, The U.S Mission Nigeria said;

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“Nigeria’s constitution provides for freedom of expression.  The Government’s recent #Twitterban undermines Nigerians’ ability to exercise this fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses. Banning social media and curbing every citizen’s ability to seek, receive, and impart information undermines fundamental freedoms.  As President Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater.  The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, alongside concerted efforts toward unity, peace, and prosperity.”

A prominent Nigerian figure Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said President Buhari should have sorted out whatever issues he has with Twitter personally and not infringe on people’s right to free expression as collateral damage.

The Nobel Laureate also said the action did not come as a surprise to him, adding that the move is “unbecoming of a democratically elected president”.

He said;

“The evocation of the civil war, where millions of civilians perished, is an unworthy emotive ploy that has run its course, adding, “Finally, the chickens have come home to roost.

“It does not take the formal declaration of hostilities, with or without lethal bombardments, for a nation to find itself shell-shocked. The populace of this nation is already in that shell-shocked condition. So, what is there left to shock?”

Also reacting, Amnesty International, Nigeria, with the Twitter handle @AmnestyNigeria, wrote: “Amnesty International condemns the Nigerian government’s suspension of Twitter @Twitter in #NigeriaFlag of Nigeria, a social media widely used by Nigerians to exercise their human rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

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“We call on the #Nigerian authorities to immediately reverse the unlawful suspension and other plans to gag the media, repress the civic space and undermine Nigerians’ human rights.

“This action is clearly inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s international obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Since the ban, some Nigerians are reportedly trying to circumvent it through the use of a virtual private network (VPN) which allows users to access public networks with encrypted internet connections.

Gwandu, the Attorney General’s spokesman, told CNN on Saturday that anyone still tweeting will be brought before the law.

“Any violator, whether individuals or organizations, will be prosecuted,” said Gwandu. “It is the duty of prosecutors to find out modalities of getting out those who violate,” he added.

Gwandu remarked that Nigeria’s laws do not guarantee absolute freedom while responding to whether it is lawful to prosecute law-abiding citizens who are entitled to freedom of thought, expression, and privacy.

“How do you call them law-abiding when they violate laws… when they want to create havoc, create issues of sedition, felony and are inciting hatred among Nigerians?” he asked.

“Every freedom has certain responsibilities — corresponding responsibility to the freedoms. No freedom is absolute. Those who are apprehended will get to know what sort of prosecution awaits them,” Gwandu told CNN.

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