The threat by Federation Attorney General and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami to prosecute “violators” of the government’s ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria lacks a legal basis, some lawyers argued.
The government, through Information Minister Lai Mohammed, suspended Twitter operations in the country on Friday.
The crackdown on Twitter came two days after the social media platform deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s controversial tweet, seen as a veiled threat of violence against the Igbo ethnic group.
It is seen by many Nigerians as an attack on citizens’ right to freedom of expression and a further step towards fulfilling the government’s long-standing ambition to impose regulations on the media space. social in the country.
But since Twitter’s ban on Friday, many Nigerians have been using various virtual private network (VPN) applications to stay active on the microblogging site.
Malami, reacting to developments on Saturday, ordered the Federation’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPPF) Umar Muhammed to prosecute those who circumvent the ban.
He headed the DPPF to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication Commission (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to ensure the swift prosecution of “offenders without further delay”.
“No constitutional support”
But in separate telephone interviews with our correspondent on Saturday, lawyers argued that there was no constitutional provision to support Mr Malami’s directive to the DPPF to try Nigerians for alleged violation of the suspension of Twitter operations. by the government.
Legal scholar and human rights activist Malcolm Omirhobo said it was unfortunate that the attorney general was unable to offer sound legal advice to the president on the issue of Twitter and other issues in the the country.
“The failure of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to distill the issues in a way that properly guides the President and the government on legal decisions and many others in the country is most regrettable.
“Mr Malami’s directive to the Nigerian DPP has no legal basis,” Omirhobo said.
“The use of Twitter is not codified as an offense”
Also a constitutional lawyer, Daniel Bwala, agreed with Mr. Omirhobo that the use of Twitter had not been defined as an offense by the simple suspension of the social media platform by the federal government.
According to Bwala, “Unless the use of Twitter is codified into law as an offense, you (the government) cannot prosecute a Nigerian for using Twitter”.
He explained, “The law of the land says that no one will be convicted or prosecuted for an offense that is not defined by law for which the penalty is prescribed in a written constitution.
In a video post to Facebook, Bwala agreed with the government’s suspension of Twitter operations on the grounds that the company “double standard” by allowing other suspected violators of the policy. company, but urged Nigerians to “reject AGF’s claim that can be prosecuted for the use of Twitter” in Nigeria.
“Tendency towards dictatorship”
Another lawyer, Silas Onu, asked which law would be broken if a Nigerian used Twitter.
He notes that the action of AGF tends towards dictatorship.
“What law will be broken if someone uses Twitter?” There are some things that this attorney general is doing that really doesn’t deserve an answer. Nothing is an offense unless it is clearly stated as such and penalties are also provided for the offenses. Consequently, the action of the AGF tends towards dictatorship ”, declared Mr. Onu.
“Disregard threats of prosecution”
While mocking the minister on Twitter on Saturday, Inibehe Effiong urged Nigerians to ignore his threat.
In his tweet, Mr Effiong, a human rights lawyer, said among other things: “… this is a senior lawyer from Nigeria. Nigerians, ignore this childish statement. It’s brutum fulmen. Using a VPN to bypass the illegal suspension of Twitter is not a crime.
“It’s a crime against humanity”
For its part, the Socio-Economic Rights and Responsibility Project (SERAP), in a tweet, said that “arrest and abuse the criminal justice system to prosecute Nigerians using Twitter in Nigeria (based on a public statement by the federal government) would amount to a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.
Referring to Article 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution, another lawyer, Festus Ogun, explained,
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“Mali’s order to arrest and prosecute Twitter users has no legal value. Article 36 (12) of the Constitution provides that arrest and prosecution can only be pronounced by law.
“Is Malami now a law for himself?” The lawyer asked, adding that Nigerians would resist any attempt to deny them their freedom.
Meanwhile, a group known as the Youth Rights Campaign has condemned the ban on Twitter, calling it an “attack on democratic rights.”
In a statement from its national coordinator, Adaramoye Michael, the group called for an immediate overturn of the ban.
“The Youth Rights Campaign (YRC) strongly condemns the recent suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. This declaration of suspension is dictatorial and a direct attack on the democratic rights of Nigerians to express themselves freely.
“We hereby call on the federal government to reverse this suspension immediately. At the same time, we call for an end to all attacks on democratic rights, including the cancellation of the bill on social media and, in fact, all measures aimed at restricting civil liberties. We also demand the unconditional release of all political detainees.
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