Undeterred by the Federal Government’s ban of Twitter operations in Nigeria, Nigerians logged on to the microblogging site in large numbers on Saturday to lambast the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
The ban took effect barely two days after Twitter, on Wednesday, deleted a controversial tweet posted by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on the Biafran war of 1967-1970 which led to loss of many lives.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who on Friday announced the indefinite suspension of the operations of Twitter in the country, cited what he described as “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
According to him, the Federal Government has also directed the National Broadcasting Commission “to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.”
Hours later, telecommunications companies in Nigeria, including MTN, Airtel, Glo and 9Mobile, started blocking access to Twitter, with the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria saying it had received a directive from the NCC to block access to the social networking site.
The statement titled ‘Order to suspend access to Twitter,’ a copy of which was obtained by Sunday PUNCH, was jointly signed by the ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo; and Executive Secretary, Gbolahan Awonuga.
Malami threatens arrest, prosecution of violators
Amid the palpable panic that trailed the announcement on Friday, there was a massive push among members of the Nigerian Twitterati to download virtual private networks as a means of circumventing the Federal Government-imposed ban.
But Malami on Saturday ordered the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation to begin immediate prosecution of violators of the ban.
The AGF’s spokesman, Umar Gwandu, in a statement titled ‘Twitter ban: Malami orders prosecution of offenders,’ said, “Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has directed immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.
“Malami directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation at the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecution of violators of the Federal Government De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria.
“Malami directed the DPPF to liase with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communications Commission and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.”
Nigerians fume, dare FG to arrest them
However, the directive drew the ire of Nigerians, who protested the ban with the top-trending hashtag #KeepitOn that had gained over 260,000 tweets at 8.30pm on Saturday. Among the other top-five trends were #TwitterBan with more than 322,000 tweets, and #BuhariMustGo, which was tweeted over 90,000 times.
A former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, tweeted, “Here’s a sliver of hope one finds in this tragedy of our @NigeriaGov’s #TwitterBan. The depth of the administration’s anger shows that our citizens are slowly but surely winning in their demand for a Nigeria that works. Citizens are maturing faster than the ‘leaders.’
“@Twitter enormously helped the emergence of engaged citizens and the voice in our land. Think of #Office of Citizen. The abduction of the 219 ChibokGirls was broadcast on this platform by @BBCNews. I am @obyezeks and vehemently oppose the #TwitterBanNigeria #KeepitOn.”
The Editor-in-Chief, Stears Business, Tokunbo Afikuyomi Jr, tweeted, “2023 is too far. Let’s start pushing impeachment. Successful or not, the threat and momentum of it can be powerful for our present and future democracy.”
Singer-songwriter, Banky Wellington, tweeted, “S’oro s’oke!!! This is not the time to back down. This is the time to speak up and stand up for our rights. They just made young people more motivated than ever to participate in our democracy. No more apathy. #NigeriaBelongsToUs”
Co-founder, #BringBackOurGirls, Aisha Yesufu, in a series of tweets, described Buhari’s 12-year struggle to assume office as a waste, saying she was prepared to face whatever consequences awaited her for her defiance.
She tweeted, “I made peace with myself and have prepared myself for either arrest or assassination. They can only kill my body, but not my voice that is in lots of videos and audios.”
Popular #EndSARS activist, DJ Switch, tagged the Federal Government as “BANdits,” saying they “ban crypto, ban protests, ban Twitter.”
She added, “The regime is evil and autocratic. They are doing testing… mic check! Hmm… We are not ready to sacrifice! It’s the only way! It is time to act o! If you can use Twitter, I suggest every single one of us unfollow these government handles and agencies. Reduce their followership to zero. Let them use NTA! #TwitterBan.”
Also, Nollywood producer, Editi Effiong, tweeted, “Remember when DSS invaded the home of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and respected citizens clapped? Yeah, here we are.”
A political activist, Deji Adeyanju, tweeted, “Don’t allow them to bully you. The goal is to bully you with their illiteracy. Nobody can arrest you for using Twitter. I hereby volunteer myself for Malami’s experiment. Which police station should I report to for using Twitter?
“When did the National Assembly meet to formulate a law that people who use Twitter in Nigeria should go to jail? And what should be the prescribed jail time? Malami is a disgrace to the legal profession.”
A medical researcher, Emeka Obiora, said, “There’s no law under the 1999 constitution that empowers the state to arrest law-abiding citizens for freedom of thought, expression, privacy and association. The constitution of Nigeria supersedes the whims and caprices and ego of President Buhari and AGF Malami. This is Illegal.”
A finance and leadership expert, Bayo Adeyinka, said, “Choosing the VPN I would download was so easy when I saw one called Thunder. Thunder fire them all.”
A travel consultant, Nnayi Christmas, tweeted, “Shell is pulling out of Nigeria. Shoprite, Etisalat, Mr Price and many others have pulled out; even Twitter couldn’t set up operations all because of bad policies and high cost to run their businesses in Nigeria. Soon, Nigeria will be a graveyard to foreign investors. #TwitterBan”
Journalist, @iamOkon, tweeted, “There can be mass murder in Nigeria and the world won’t know. Twitter is the one platform Nigerians use to call global attention to a subject matter. The #TwitterBan can’t just happen because then, the government has succeeded in taking the voice of the common man. #KeepitOn”
Another Twitter user, @dondekojo, said, “They banned Twitter, please how is it a crime to use Twitter? Who made Malami a lawyer? How’s he the chief prosecutor in this country? What law is he relying on to make that ridiculous order to arrest Twitter users? Do we know how dangerous this is with our incompetent cops?”
Similarly, @baddestcash_ said, “Welcome to Nigeria, where the government doesn’t see insecurity as a problem but sees Twitter users as a major problem, since the AGF Malami orders arrest, prosecution of Nigerians still using Twitter, and still today, bandits kill 88 in eight villages in Kebbi State. #KeepitOn”
Tweeps not using our networks, telcos insist
However, telcos said the Twitter users were not using their networks to access the microblogging site.
Asked whether the suspension of Twitter by the telcos was being done in phases, as some were still able to tweet despite the ban, the firms said they had suspended Twitter completely on their networks.
The ALTON Chairman told one of our correspondents, “We have disconnected Twitter completely from the national networks. There is no mobile network operator who has access to Twitter as we speak.”
Adebayo stated that many Twitter users were able to access the social networking site via other sources other than the telcos’ networks.
He said, “Virtual private networks are internet-based and so long as you are able to access the internet, you will be able to access some of those services. They are not directly connected to the operators, so the clarification I need to make now is that all operators have disconnected Twitter from our networks.
“It is not partial or gradual, but a complete disconnection. Anyone who has access to Twitter is not through our networks. The Internet is an open source, so as far as we are concerned, we have fully complied.”
Reacting to the ban, the official account for Twitter’s Public Policy, @policy, said, “We are deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria. Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society.
“We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. #KeepitOn”
Falana leads SERAP’s legal team to ECOWAS Court Monday
However, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project stated that it had already briefed human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), to proceed to court on Monday with lawsuits to challenge the government’s action.
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, on Saturday, told Sunday PUNCH that its legal team, led by Falana, as of Saturday, was preparing two lawsuits ahead of Monday.
According to him, the organisation plans to file one suit at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice and another at the Federal High Court upon the end of the ongoing strike by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria.
Oludare said, “SERAP is going to court on Monday. Femi Falana (SAN) will handle the case for SERAP. At the moment, we are preparing two suits – one for ECOWAS Court of Justice and another for the Federal High Court; we are hoping that the JUSUN strike would have been called off. We will be in court on Monday. Falana will lead our team of lawyers.”
Smaller ISPs record partial compliance
Meanwhile, it was gathered on Saturday that mobile network operators complied fully with the Federal Government’s order.
Investigations showed that some internet service providers had yet to fully comply as of Saturday evening as some of their subscribers were still able to access the site.
A top source at the NCC said the ISP were not quickly informed of the suspension of Twitter, hence the delay.
He further stated that the smaller networks did not have the infrastructure to act immediately like MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9Mobile.
The NCC source said, “All the GSM networks have complied but the smaller networks haven’t complied fully. This is because they were not informed on time and they don’t have the infrastructure to take such actions immediately. But they have started complying partially, and by Sunday, we expect full compliance.”