Nigeria’s Twitter Ban Stokes Defiance Despite Prosecution Threat

The Nigerian government’s ban on Twitter Inc. has triggered a wave of defiance among the country’s tech savvy, largely youthful population despite the risk of acquiring a criminal record.

Demand in Africa’s most populous country for virtual private network software, or VPN, that bypasses local internet restrictions soared by 1,409% on June 5, according to Top10VPN, an independent U.K.-based review website. The figure was more than 400% higher the following day as the block extended past 24 hours.

Not everyone disregarding the ban necessarily disagreed with the decision by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state and an influential leader in the ruling party, flouted his own government’s prohibition by retweeting an article by Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT saying Nigeria is teaching the U.S. a “lesson in how to handle Big Tech tyranny.”

While El-Rufai enjoys immunity under the constitution as long as he’s in office, others choosing to post have no such protection.

Nigeria’s justice minister, Abubakar Malami, has directed law enforcement authorities to “ensure the speedy prosecution” of those that violate the social media giant’s suspension, according to a statement published shortly after the ban was put in place late Friday night.

Yet on Monday, about two dozen Nigerian civil society leaders issued a statement titled “WE WILL KEEP TWEETING,” denouncing the “anti-democratic clampdown on free speech.” Malami’s threat is unconstitutional and “an utter abuse of power,” they said.

Many Nigerians took to their accounts to point out that Twitter court hearings aren’t possible -- for now, at least -- because a nationwide strike has shut down the justice system since early April.

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