Attorney-general Abubakar Malami has made a u-turn on his threat to arrest and prosecute Nigerians who are still tweeting.
Malami had made the threat after the Muhammadu Buhari regime banned social media platform Twitter. He is now trying to walk it back after international backslash.
“It is within their guaranteed fundamental right to tweet from anywhere in the world,” Malami told Vanguard on Thursday.
“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,” Malami said.
Following the Twitter ban, prominent religious leaders including pastors Enoch. A Adeboye and William F. Kumuyi said they would continue to use platform. Information minister Lai Mohammed responded by suggesting that Malami could arrest pastors.
With many Nigerians turning to virtual private networks (VPN) and other means to bypass the Twitter blockade, Malami threatened to arrest a few unrepentant tweeters and prosecute them to instill fear in others.
The attorney-general now makes a u-turn.
“At no time did we threaten any religious leader for using Twitter to express themselves,” he said.
“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.
“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 vowed.
It remains unclear how the Buhari government defines “giving a helping hand to Twitter”.
Buhari banned Twitter after the social media platform deleted a post in which the president threatened to unleash violence on separatists.
Facebook later deleted the same post Buhari published on its platform. But the government, observers say, see Twitter as a threat because of its role in promoting last years anti-police-brutality protest.
Malami’s u-turn came after the US Mission in Nigeria issued a strong condemnation of the Twitter ban. The EU, the UK and other countries have also condemned the ban and told the Nigerian government to reverse it.