Nigeria’s Justice Minister has told the Vanguard newspaper that the government never intended to prosecute citizens still using Twitter after the micro-blogging site was banned in the country last week.
Abubakar Malami, who is also the country’s attorney general, told the newspaper that the government would only go after “anyone, whether individual or corporate institution that enables Twitter to circumvent the ban”.
“For the record, let it be made amply clear that Abubakar Malami is not after any Nigerian, tweeting from Nigeria or anywhere in the world but that any Nigerian company or entity that gives a helping hand for Twitter to escape the ban placed on it, will be dealt with,” he said.
Last week, the minister’s aide had told the BBC that a statement released by Mr Malami threatening to prosecute violators of the ban included Nigerian citizens who defied the order and continued using the app.
Most Nigerians have been tweeting since the ban came into effect last Friday, using virtual private networks to bypass a block on the Twitter site after telecommunications companies heeded the government warning.
But Mr Malami told Vanguard that his initial statement did not call for prosecution against “those using Twitter or any social media platform to express their view”.
“But we are going to use the legal instruments at our disposal to go after those who aid and abet Twitter to continue to threaten our corporate existence as a nation,” he said.
It is not clear if Mr Malami is referring to the VPN companies that Nigerians have been using to bypass the Twitter ban.
There has been widespread condemnation since the suspension was announced, the latest coming from the United States.
A group of Nigerian human rights organisations had also filed a case with a West African regional court describing the ban as “unlawful”.