One day after it banned Twitter, Nigeria announced that authorities would arrest and prosecute users who attempted to use the social network, whose app and website were still available to some in the country on Saturday despite the ban.
A spokesman for Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s attorney general and minister of justice, revealed the government’s new stance on Saturday, which applies to both individuals and organisations that use Twitter, according to CNN. Nigeria’s government suspended Twitter indefinitely on Friday because of the “persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence,” sparking local and international condemnation.
The move came after the social network removed a tweet from the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, for violating its policy on abusive behaviour. Although Buhari’s deleted tweet was not mentioned as a reason for the ban, it is seen by some to be the government’s retaliation for Twitter’s actions.
Earlier this week, Buhari published a tweet threatening to punish people in the country’s southeast region who held secessionist views. CNN points out that Buhari blames secessionists for the frequent attacks on public infrastructure there.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” the president wrote in the now-deleted tweet.
Buhari’s message references the two-year Nigeria-Biafra War, which took place from 1967-1970. The conflict aimed to create an independent Biafra state for the ethnic Igbo people. It’s estimated that between one and three million people died in the war. The effort ended in defeat for the separatists, who ultimately surrendered to Nigeria.
Ironically, the country announced that Twitter was banned on Twitter.
Twitter’s public policy team said on Saturday that it was deeply concerned about the blocking of the platform in Nigeria.
“Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society,” Twitter said. “We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world.”
Gizmodo reached out to Twitter on Sunday to ask if it had any additional comment on the ban or reaction to the news that the country would criminally prosecute people who use the platform. Twitter said it had no additional comment besides the statement its public policy team issued on Saturday.
On the international stage, Amnesty International Nigeria criticised the Nigerian government’s suspension of Twitter and said the platform was used widely by people in the country to exercise their rights of freedom of expression and access to information.
“We call on the #Nigerian authorities to immediately reverse the unlawful suspension and other plans to gag the media, repress the civic space, and undermine Nigerians’ human rights,” Amnesty International Nigeria said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, Olumide Akpata, the president of the Nigerian Bar Association, affirmed that the government had no constitutional or legal authority to support the ban, arguing that such arbitrary decisions harm investor confidence at a time when the country’s economy is struggling.
If the decision is not immediately reversed, he said, the association would take legal action.