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Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has made a u-turn in his threat against Nigerians who make use of Twitter despite the Federal government suspension of the microblogging site.
In a chat with Vanguard on Thursday, Malami said his office will not be prosecuting Nigerians residing in or out the country who are making use of the platform but will go after any company or entity that offers to help Twitter bypass the suspension of its operations in the country.
Reacting during the interview, Malami said it is within the right of Nigerians as citizens of a democratic country to make use of Twitter but the Federal government is only against those who help Twitter beat the suspension.
He 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.
“Our statement outlining our position on June 1, 2021 did not ask the DPP 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.
“At no time did we threaten any religious leader for using Twitter to express themselves. Neither 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.
Malami further said that the Buhari-led administration against popular opinion is a people-centric government that enables human right; hence Nigerians have committed no offence by tweeting.
“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,” Malami added.
It must however be said that the recent statement of the Attorney-General is a sharp contrast to his earlier threat made barely 24 hours after the ban was announced by Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed.
According to the statement, Malami said he had “directed for immediate prosecution of offenders of the federal government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria”, telling the public prosecutor to “swing into action”.
He reiterated his threat of prosecuting Nigerians who have continued to use Twitter as recently as Tuesday when he spoke in an interview with Committee to Protect Journalists.
“The essence of the law is to achieve stability in the country” and prosecution “will serve as a deterrence to others,” he said.
However his surprising u-turn can be connected to the Attorney-General disregarding his own threat and logging into Twitter via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) despite the ban to deactivate his account.
Also, a lot of Nigerians who have continued tweeting have contested the legality of the directive that is not backed by any law or an executive order.
It is also unclear which organisations the Attorney General is saying because the majority of Twitter users have bypassed the restriction of access to Twitter by switching on the VPN on their phone or installing third parties VPN.