The Federal Government has claimed to a Federal High Court in Lagos that it did not stop Nigerians from using microblogging platform, Twitter.
According to the Federal Government, many Nigerians have access to the social media platform and they are still using it every day.
This was said in a counter-affidavit lodged by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, in response to a motion filed by human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong.
Recall that the Federal Government had on June 4, surprisingly announced a suspension of Twitter activities in the country.
In the statement announcing the ban, the minister cited “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
The ban was subsequently followed by telecom operators in the country who deactivated twitter on their networks by 12 midnight the following day.
But the majority of Twitter users have bypassed the Federal Government’s restriction by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN).
Barely 24 hours after the ban was announced, Malami threatened to prosecute anyone still making use of the platform.
In a statement, he said he had “directed for immediate prosecution of offenders of the federal government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria”, telling the public prosecutor to “swing into action”. The National Broadcasting Commission also directed radio and television stations to stop using the Twitter platform.
Following the sequence of the Twitter ban events, Effiong, subsequently sued the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, Malami, and the Federal Government for suspending the social media platform.
In the fundamental human rights suit marked FHC/L/CS/542/2021, Effiong is seeking nine reliefs, including 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 the AGF, it was stated that the suspension of Twitter was not an abuse of human rights because Nigerians were still using Twitter despite the suspension.
It read 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.”
The government told the court that Nigerians are still free to use other platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Tiktok and others.
The Federal Government further claimed that Twitter was suspended because it is used by Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and used for the promotion of the October 2020, EndSARS protests that was later hijacked by hoodlums.
It told the court that the Twitter suspension would be lifted once the platform registers with the NBC and the Corporate Affairs Commission.