Author(s): Cheta Nwanze
June 19, 2013
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has denied reports that the government is investing in surveillance of citizens on the Internet.
Sylvanus Ehikioya, Director, New Media and Information Security, NCC, said: “Nigeria is not a police state and government is not considering carrying out surveillance on its citizens. The freedom of expression of its citizens as guaranteed by the constitution is sacrosanct. Government is not interested in spying on her citizens but government is interested in doing what is right to ensure that citizens are free to use the Internet and is safe in doing so.”
He said although the monitoring of citizens in some countries was a means for checking Internet crime, “such option is not being considered by the Nigerian Government.”
He said that the effort to check Internet fraud was an ongoing effort which would involve the use of the Cyber Security Bill, which could not be perfected without its passage into law. Ehikioya said that Nigeria would rather collaborate with other countries to check Internet crime than to monitor the citizens.
Ehikioya said that countries must make provisions in their laws to collaborate with other countries to check cyber-crimes; adding that measures were being taken to create appropriate frameworks and guidelines in Nigeria to facilitate collaboration with other countries against cyber-crime.
He, however, said that for a country, such as Nigeria, to collaborate with other countries, the appropriate framework, such as the Cyber Security Bill pending at the National Assembly must be passed into law.
At odds with a Minister?
A mixture of apathy by many Nigerians and the stories occasioned by the PRISM leak which showed how the US government ran (and probably continues to run) a far reaching spying programme on the internet usage of ordinary Americans has given the federal government some confidence, making Ehikioya’s stand to be at odds with Information minister Labaran Maku’s position on the matter.
Speaking less than a week before at the at the Democracy Audit which was organised by the Save Nigeria Group to mark the 20th anniversary of the June 12 election, Maku defended the plan to monitor the activities of Nigerians on the internet by awarding an earlier reported, and highly controversial electronic surveillance contract to an Israeli company.
Maku in his speech said that monitoring of emails is a common occurrence around the world.
According to him, “Everywhere in the world, e-mails are seen by government. Even, the world super-power, America, spies on citizens’ mails to checkmate the activities of unscrupulous elements capable of threatening its internal security.
He went on to say that: “There’s no government all over the world that is uninterested in what comes in and goes out of its territorial boundaries.”
N6.2 billion deal, which has been universally condemned by various groups in the country ranging from politicians to the man on the street, is seen as an unnecessary, wasteful and unconstitutional overreach of federal power. The House of Representatives has already asked the Executive to stop the deal until a probe can be constituted and concluded.
Opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), in its own reaction stated that the move was targeted at journalists and those considered to be opponents of the Jonathan administration, adding that the move violates the 1999 Constitution.
The “Spy scandal”
According to recent data released by the NCC, Nigeria has some 34.5 million active internet users and not a few have been apprehensive of the FG’s move. They fear that the technology would infringe on free online communication, especially given outbursts on many occasions by government officials about the growing use of the internet, social media, and its propensity for dissent.
In April, online news organisation, Premium Times claimed that the Federal Government had awarded an Israeli firm, Elbit Systems, a
N6.2 billion contract to supply its Wise Intelligence Technology (WiT) for intelligence analysis and cyber-defence. In a subsequent statement, Elbit confirmed that they had been awarded a contract of that amount from an unnamed African country.
Subsequently, a document surfaced from the Budget Office, released by Gbenga Sesan, an activist, board member of the Enough is Enough Coalition, and executive director of the Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria. Sesan’s scoop showed that the FG had set aside more than
N9.6 billion for three systems: one for internet monitoring, another for internet surveillance and a third for a system called the “Wise Intelligence Network Harvest Analyser System”. Mr. Sesan filed a Freedom of Information Act request in May for the details of the Elbit deal, but having received no response, took the FG to court. According to Mr. Sesan, he is still waiting for a date for the hearing.
Editor’s note: Material for this report was compiled from the News Agency of Nigeria, Pilot Africa and Premium Times