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Many Nigerians have been continuing to tweet in defiance of government threats to arrest and prosecute anyone violating the ban it imposed on Twitter.

They are using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to bypass the ban after telecommunications companies heeded the government’s directive and blocked the micro-blogging site.

Gbenga Sesan of the Paradigm Initiative, which offers digital opportunities to young people across Africa, said the government’s ban had backfired.

“Guess what? The only people who have been muted right now appear to be the government themselves. Yes, some businesses are not tweeting because clearly they do not want to be punished, but the citizens they were trying to proscribe are still tweeting,” he told the Confirm News.

The ban was announced on Friday after the government alleged that the micro-blogging site was being used to undermine “Nigeria’s corporate existence” through the spreading of fake news that have “violent consequences”.

It drew an angry reaction from many Nigerians and Western powers who saw it as a threat to civil liberties, but the government was unrepentant, leaving Twitter officially blocked in Africa’s most populous state.

Some legal experts say they are unaware of any law which makes it illegal to tweet, but others say police can arrest alleged violators because of the sweeping powers given to them under national security legislation.

Security personnel in Nigeria have been known to zealously enforce government orders even when there is no legal clarity, as in this case.

For his part, Nigeria’s Attorney General Abubakar Malami has been coy, saying people will know what offence they have committed only when they are arraigned in court.

The government has not spoken of any arrests, but there are unconfirmed reports of people being stopped and their phones searched for the Twitter app in some parts of Nigeria.

Normally, Twitter is the main platform to break news of arrests, and to rally public support against security force action.

Now there are fears that people could be detained without anyone knowing. To make things worse, the courts have been crippled by a workers’ strike so people may languish in police cells for a long time.

The strike also makes it difficult for the Nigeria Bar Association – the body representing the legal profession – to go to court in a bid to reverse the ban.

It has described the ban as lacking legal basis, and aimed at depriving Nigerians of their right to freedom of expression.

However, a group of human rights organisations says it has filed a case with a West African regional court describing the ban as “unlawful”.

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