By Mukwuzi Joseph
The Federal Government has denied claims that it has stopped Nigerians from using the microblogging site, Twitter.
Punch reports that the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the Federal Government made the denial in a counter-affidavit they deposed to in response to an originating motion filed by human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong.
The Federal government on June 4 2021, announced the indefinite suspension of the operations of Twitter in Nigeria. The government suspended the site operations days after it deleted a Tweet from President Buhari’s handle in which he made reference to the civil war which many found offensive. The Attorney General had released a statement threatening to prosecute Nigerians still using the platform via VPN while the National Broadcasting Commission ordered all radio and television stations to stop using Twitter or picking content from the platform.
Opposed to the move by the Federal government, HumanRights lawyer, Inihebe Effiong, dragged the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed and the Federal government before the court. In a fundamental human rights suit marked FHC/L/CS/542/2021, Inihebe asked the court to amongst other things grant an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from further suspending, deactivating, or banning the operation and accessibility of Twitter or any other social media service in Nigeria because the act was in violation of his rights.
Effiong asked the court to declare as illegal the ‘threat of criminal prosecution by Malami and Lai Mohammed against Nigerians who violate the suspension or ban of Twitter, despite the absence of any written law.’
In an affidavit deposed to by Mr. Ilop Lawrence on behalf of the Federal Government and Malami, it was stated that the suspension of Twitter was not an abuse of human rights because Nigerians were still using Twitter despite the suspension. The government told the court that Nigerians are still free to use platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Tiktok and others. The Federal Government also denied knowledge of Twitter deleting Buhari’s tweet on the Biafra civil which offended many Nigerians.
It said Twitter had made its platform accessible to elements like Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra; and had supported the #EndSARS protests of October 2020 which was later hijacked by hoodlums. The government further stated that Nigerians should direct their anger at Twitter and not the government because Twitter would not have been suspended if it complied with Nigeria’s laws. It told the court that the Twitter suspension would be lifted once the platform registers with the NBC and the Corporate Affairs Commission.
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.”