The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has told the ECOWAS Court that simply having the Twitter app on one’s mobile device in Nigeria constitutes the offence of sedition under the strict penal code applicable to Northern Nigeria.
Mr Malami’s argument was part of a 17-page defence document filed before the court on September 27 in response to an ongoing class action suit challenging the Buhari regime’s crackdown on Nigerians using the micro-blogging platform.
“Furthermore, it is apt to note that the possible prosecution of violator(s) does not only lie against the use and operation of Twitter in Nigeria, a careful examination of section 419 of the Penal Code (Northern States) Federal Provisions Act shows that the installation of Twitter App alone could suffice as an offence under the section, that is the offence of possession seditious articles,” the court document said.
In the argument presented by lawyers from the Ministry of Justice, including Maimuna Lami Shiru and Enock Simon, Mr Malami asserted that having the mobile application installed on one’s device also constitutes the possession of seditious articles under the Penal Code.
The Federal Government outlines four offences actionable under the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria. The offences include inciting disaffection to the government, exciting hatred between classes, possession of seditious articles, and importation of prohibited publications.
These offences are all pursuant to the Penal Code (Northern States) Federal Provisions Act, though it was unclear why the Buhari-led regime would apply a set of laws drafted for a portion of the country over Nigeria’s multiethnic and multi-religious population of about 200 million people.
The consolidated lawsuit before the regional court was filed by a coalition of activists and media houses, including Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and Peoples Gazette, challenging the banning of Twitter’s operations in the country. The court has adjourned till January 2022 for ruling.
In June, after the ban had been announced by information minister Lai Mohammed, Mr Malami directed for the immediate prosecution of offenders of the ban despite violating it himself.