Several hours after the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension of Twitter, the platform has only been accessible through virtual private networks (VPNs) at times – but even some of them are being blocked.
In the latest development, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, has ordered the prosecution of Nigerians who violate the ban on Twitter. The directive was announced in a statement issued by Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, media aide of Malami, on Saturday, June 5, 2021.
The statement reads, “Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has ordered the prosecution of offenders of the federal government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.
“The AGF directed the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) at his office 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.
“The DPPF is to liaise with the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, National Communication Communication (NCC) and other relevant government agencies to ensure the speedy prosecution of offenders without any further delay.”
The crackdown is the latest front in the Federal Government’s campaign to suppress internet activity. Furthermore, the government’s recent attention to Twitter signals a new level of suppression of free speech under President Buhari’s repressive rule. It seems that the government not only want to stop Nigerians from speaking out but also want to scrub from the platform records of past critical speech.
In effect, the authorities are extending their control over the lives of Nigerians online, and their new approach involves using the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), which oversees law enforcement and political security to harass or detain Twitter users, forcing them to delete sensitive tweets or close their accounts.
Twitter may be banned in Nigeria, but the platform plays an important role in political debate and the discussion of issues in the country. What’s more at stake are the millions in ad revenue generated from Nigerian companies targeting audiences overseas.
The last 24-hours have been intense for many Nigerians participating in the ongoing campaign against state-controlled influence-peddling on social media. The next few days, though, will be more dramatic as the pressure mounts for the policy changes to stick, and we see what happens when the current media spotlight dims.