Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation, has backtracked on his order directing the arrest of Nigerians who use Twitter following the ban of the microblogging platform in Nigeria.
Malami made the clarification in an interview on Thursday.
The Federal Government announced the suspension of Twitter last Friday, two days after the microblogging site deleted a tweet of President Muhammadu Buhari after it was deemed to have “violated the Twitter rules”.
In a statement by Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture on Friday, the ban placed on Twitter was due to the “persistent use” of the platform in purportedly encouraging activities that “undermines Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
Malami subsequently in a statement issued by Umar Gwandu, his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, last Saturday directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) to work with the relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.
However, some Nigerians have been able to circumvent the suspension through the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
Responding to a question concerning the arrest order, Malami said his statement was misunderstood and taken out of context.
According to the AGF, Nigerians have a right to tweet from anywhere globally, saying what he meant was that anyone who enabled Twitter to circumvent the ban was going to be prosecuted.
“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,” Malami told the Vanguard.
“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 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 also denied planning to arrest religious leaders who continue to use Twitter, saying the Federal Government never at any time threatened to prosecute any cleric for undertaking in such an activity.
He said: “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.
“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.
“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.”