The Federal Government has disputed reports that it has banned Nigerians from accessing Twitter.
According to Punch, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the Federal Government denied the allegations in a counter-affidavit filed in response to an originating petition filed by Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer.
On June 4, 2021, the Nigerian government declared that Twitter’s activities would be suspended indefinitely. The government shut down the site days after President Buhari’s handle erased a Tweet that many deemed insulting, in which he made a reference to the civil conflict. The Attorney General issued a statement threatening to prosecute Nigerians who continue to use the platform through a VPN, while the National Broadcasting Commission ordered all radio and television stations to stop using Twitter or picking up content from it.
HumanRights lawyer Inihebe Effiong, who was opposed to the decision by the Federal government, took the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, and the Federal government to court. Inihebe requested an order of perpetual injunction barring the respondents from further suspending, deactivating, or restricting the operation and accessibility of Twitter or any other social media service in Nigeria, among other things, in a fundamental human rights litigation marked FHC/L/CS/542/2021.
Effiong requested that the court rule the “threat of criminal prosecution by Malami and Lai Mohammed against Nigerians who breach the suspension or ban of Twitter, despite the absence of any written law” as unconstitutional.
The suspension of Twitter was not an abuse of human rights, according to an affidavit deposed to by Mr. Ilop Lawrence on behalf of the Federal Government and Malami, because Nigerians continued to use Twitter despite the suspension. Nigerians are still allowed to use services such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Tiktok, and others, the government told the court. The Federal Government also denied knowing that Buhari’s tweet on the Biafra civil war, which offended many Nigerians, was deleted by Twitter.
It said that Twitter had made its platform available to people like Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, as well as supporting the #EndSARS protests in October 2020, which were later hijacked by hoodlums. Nigerians should direct their rage at Twitter, not the government, according to the administration, because Twitter would not have been suspended if it followed Nigerian regulations. The court was told that once Twitter registered with the NBC and the Corporate Affairs Commission, the suspension would be lifted.
The affidavits deposed by the Federal government reads in part:
“The applicant (Effiong) and the class he seeks to represent can still operate those Twitter accounts from anywhere in the world and even from Nigeria. Nigerians are still tweeting, even at this moment as the ban on Twitter is not aimed at intimidating Nigerians or an infringement on the rights of Nigerians to express their opinion.
“The respondents (Federal Government and AGF) have never stopped the applicant (Effiong) and the class of persons he seeks to represent from voicing their opinions to access government information and offer criticism where necessary.”