Human Rights Lawyer, Adeola Oyinlade, has condemned the move by the federal government to prosecute Nigerians still using Twitter via VPN despite the suspension of the social media platform.
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami had directed the Director of Public Prosecution to go after those violating the order.
Several Nigerians, public office holders, government agencies, embassies, diplomats, the media have defied the order. Many accuse the Muhammadu Buhari administration of autocracy.
Oyinlade declared the directive, “illegal and unconstitutional,” insisting that the Twitter ban cannot override the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
The legal practitioner said in plethora of cases decided, the Supreme Court held that before a crime can be committed, it has to be defined by the law validly enacted by the National Assembly or States House of Assembly with punishment described.
Oyinlade recalled that the Supreme Court, in the case of Aoko v Fagbemi, held that nobody could be punished for an offence that was not part of written laws at the time it was committed.
“The implication of the court decision in the aforementioned case is that a man may be punished for a breach of the law, but he cannot be punished for nothing else.
“In other words, powers can only be exercised in accordance with written law made by the lawmakers. The use of the Virtual Private Networks (VPN) by many Nigerians cannot amount to crime as of today in Nigeria.”
Oyinlade warned that the arrest and prosecution of citizens for using Twitter contravenes the grand norm which is the constitution.
The President, Constitutional Rights Awareness and Liberty Initiative reminded the AGF that, “mere directive from the government cannot take a place of law.”
He kicked against the arrest of Nigerians, who cannot be arraigned within the timeframe stipulated, as the courts are still under locks due to the strike by judicial workers.
Oyinlade said the constitution is so supreme to the extent that any other law that contravenes its provisions shall be declared null and void to the extent of its inconsistency.
The lawyer added that the right to freedom of expression remained very essential and fundamental to the development of a civilized society.