The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on Saturday ordered the prosecution of Nigerians defying the government’s ban on Twitter, but did not state the specific law that is being violated.
Asked which law the AGF intends to invoke to prosecute alleged offenders, his spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, told PREMIUM TIMES that “the alleged violators would get to know in court”.
“We will invite journalists at the time of prosecution, and they will know which laws are used to prosecute. The point is Twitter has been banned. Anybody should not try to use Twitter.
“At the time we are gathering them and assembling them in court, they will get to know which law they are violating,” Mr Gwandu told our reporter after he issued the statement announcing Mr Malami’s prosecution order on Saturday.
When pressed further on the need to tell Nigerians which particular law they are violating by continuing using Twitter, Mr Gwandu said it was the “the federal government laws”.
“Tell Nigerians that the government has banned Twitter and anybody who uses it will be penalised. The point is they violated the ban. They are violating the federal government laws,” he said.
The government through the information minister, Lai Mohammed, had on Friday, announced an “indefinite suspension” of Twitter operations in Nigeria.
This came two days after Twitter took down a controversial tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari which the microblogging site said violated its rules and many Nigerias viewed as a veiled threat of violence against the Igbo ethnic group.
The ban has been widely condemned by many within and outside Nigeria.
For a government that has been nursing the ambition of imposing a regime of strict regulation of the social media for years, the ban on Twitter is seen as part of a broader plan of the Buhari-led administration to restrict access to the social media space which has proved to be an effective platform for holding leaders accountable.
It also brings back the memories of the human rights abuse of Mr Buhari’s stint as a military dictator between 1984 and 1985. The period was known for vicious attacks on free press, freedom of expression, arbitrary arrests and detentions, among other forms of rights violation.
But since the ban on Twitter, many Nigerians have been using various Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications to remain active on the microblogging site.
Reacting to the development in a statement by his spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, on Saturday, Mr Malami ordered the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF), Umar Muhammed, to begin the prosecution of those bypassing the ban.
He directed the DPPF to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication Commission (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of the “offenders without any further delay”.
Many have raised concerns about which law is being violated by those who continue using the microblogging site.
This is in light of the provision of section 36(12) of the Nigerian constitution which prohibits the conviction of anyone based on any law not prescribed in any written law.
“Subject as otherwise provided by this Constitution, a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefor is prescribed in a written law, and in this subsection, a written law refers to an Act of the National Assembly or a Law of a State, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the provisions of a law,” the constitutional provision reads.
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