Days after being criticised for bypassing the federal government’s ban on Twitter, Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, a federal cabinet member, has denied threatening to prosecute Nigerians still tweeting on the microblogging site.
Mr Malami, who had earlier issued the prosecution threat against Nigerians defying the Nigerian government’s ban on Twitter, made a dramatic turn about it in an interview with Vanguard newspaper.
His denial came days after he unknowingly exposed himself in a Facebook post which showed he too had bypassed the Twitter ban like many other Nigerians.
“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,” the Vanguard quoted Mr Malami as saying on Thursday.
Mr Malami, who doubles as the Minister of Justice, added, “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 added that the statement from his office did not ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute Nigerians using Twitter or any social media platform to express their view.
“But we are going to use the legal instruments at our disposal to go after those who aid and abet Twitter to continue to threaten our corporate existence as a nation.
“It is clear from the barrage of insinuations and falsehood being orchestrated by some Nigerians and those trying to change the clear position of the Government of Nigeria to suit their whims and caprices and to whip up sentiments to hoodwink the people, that they are up to some mischievous and sinister games, which the Federal Government will not condone,” Mr Malami also said.
Nigerian government suspended Twitter operations indefinitely on June 4, after it alleged that the micro-blogging site was being used to undermine “Nigeria’s corporate existence” through the spreading of fake news that have “violent consequences”.
The ban came two days after Twitter took down a controversial tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari which was seen by many as threatening violence against Igbo people.
Many Nigerians ignored the ban and bypassed it by using Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications to remain active on the microblogging site.
Displeased with the development, the AGF, through his spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, on June 5, ordered the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF), Umar Muhammed, to begin the prosecution of those bypassing the ban.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES through his spokesperson, Mr Gwandu, hours after issuing the prosecution threat, the AGF insisted that using Twitter had become a crime, adding that alleged violators bypassing the ban “would be told the law they were violating when charged to court”.
Many Nigerians continue to tweet in defiance of Mr Malami’s threats.
On Tuesday, Mr Malami took to his Facebook wall to post a screenshot of a notification for the deactivation of his Twitter account in an apparent show of leadership by example.
Thousands of Nigerians besieged his Facebook wall posting replies that questioned how he was able to access his Twitter page despite the ban.
The vigilant ones among them quickly pointed out the VPN logo appearing on the minister’s screenshot, a confirmation that he too had used a backdoor channel to access Twitter.
The screenshot also showed an app used to trade in cryptocurrency, which has also been banned by the Nigerian government.
By Friday evening, the Facebook post by Mr Malami had been shared 1,800 times and attracted 21,000 comments.
Malami blames ‘mischief makers’
In his interview with the Vanguard, Mr Malami said his office “did not threaten any religious leader for using Twitter to express themselves nor did we indicate in any way that we were going after them.”
“But mischief-makers were quick to mention names of religious leaders and give the impression that we were already in court to try them.
“Let it be made clear that the Buhari administration, being a people-centred government that relies on the rule of law, will never adopt any policy or programme that seeks to add pain or injury to the very people who elected it to serve them.
“For the record, let it be made amply clear that the AGF, Abubakar Malami, is not after any Nigerian, tweeting from Nigeria or anywhere in the world but that any Nigerian company or entity that gives a helping hand for Twitter to escape the ban placed on it, will be dealt with,” he added.