…To Monitor Calls, Messages
…IPOB/Biafra Agitators Unfazed
…It’s Against The Law- Igbo Youth Congress
BEVERLY HILLS, February 28, (THEWILL) – Nigeria’s foremost spy agency, Department of State Services (DSS), has received approval from President Muhammadu Buhari to acquire a super-sophisticated BIG BROTHER technology that will grant secret agents limitless, round-the-clock access to everything you say or transmit via the encrypted WhatsApp mobile application as part of an invasive surveillance of the country’s 170 million phone subscribers and 122 million internet users.
Authoritative sources familiar with the approval and development confided in THEWILL that a budget of about N3 billion has been approved to purchase the technology.
“The technology has been paid for and should be on our shores and operational in another 6-8 weeks,” one of the sources told THEWILL.
A training programme has also been arranged for designated security operatives who will operate the equipment, according to the sources, who opted to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Apart from targeting users of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, THEWILL could not as at press time determine whether the technology can bug users of other fast-growing encrypted phone messaging services like Telegram and Signal.
Known informally as the BIG BROTHER technology, the new equipment will expand the DSS’s capacity for phone monitoring, phone tapping, audio surveillance, video surveillance, internet monitoring and location monitoring throughout the country’s entire communications spectrum.
According to our sources in government, the purchase is coming on the heels of the country’s challenging security issues – terrorism, kidnapping and banditry, and not even constitutional provisions guaranteeing citizens’ personal privacy will be allowed to pose a stumbling block to this new acquisition.
In what many see as the Buhari administration’s treading in the footsteps of totalitarian authoritarianism, the government’s proposed acquisition of the snooping technology will be holding grave implications for human rights.
Legal minds say that apart from trampling upon citizens’ Freedom of Speech, the plan knocks heads with Section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution which stipulates that: “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.”
“If you think your Whatsapp messages are safe, you are kidding, neither are your phone conversations nor emails. The DSS is now the Big Brother with wider eyes and ears on every phone conversation and messages and no one has a hiding place,” one of the sources told THEWILL with a smirk on his face.
We Are Not Bothered – Ipob/Biafra Agitators
THEWILL gathered that some members of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and other ‘faceless’ Biafran agitators appear to be jittery about the development, as they have been operating discreetly, and now believe that the new snooping device would unmask their identities, thus putting them into trouble. However, many say they are not bothered and would continue with their struggle. An IPOB loyalist, Cyprian Nwaka, based in Enugu, said he was aware that the authorities were following IPOB activities closely.
Nwaka said: “Yes, I am aware that they are following us closely but that cannot remove anything from the struggle. Our activities are hottest in Aba and Onitsha and things are really happening in those places. Even Delta people are joining the struggle.”
“I don’t know what is happening there in Lagos but as for South East, they are not relenting,” he added.
Against The Law
Activists are already up in arms.
“I can assure you that there will be a lot of litigations when this spying equipment gets launched,” said Comrade Bright Ezeocha, President of the Igbo Youth Congress (IYC). “All over the world, in as much as security is important to every nation, when it comes to spying on people’s conversations and activities on the internet, it is against the law and against human rights. Even America with all its greatness and technological know-how does not intrude into people’s privacy.”
Echoing these same sentiments, Mr. Solomon Oba Olufelo, an Information Technologist, said: “It is not done. You cannot wake up one day and say you are CIA or DSS and you want to start eavesdropping on citizens. You don’t do such. It amounts to being dictatorial and putting the Nigerian people under siege and slavery. We are entitled to Freedom of Speech. We must have our right to privacy. That is what a sane country does. Why would you want to deprive us the freedom to exchange ideas? Why would you come and eavesdrop on what I am saying?”
Another Tool Against The Opposition
Although in theory, the snooping device will place Nigeria’s about 294 million mobile phone and internet subscribers under the secret service’s 24/7 real time surveillance, the fear is that the government will narrow down its application to haunt, harangue and harass those deemed as “persons of interest,” a euphemism for opposition figures and critics of the Buhari regime such as activists, opposition politicians, elected officials, human rights defenders and journalists.
On the plus side, however, the BIG BROTHER device will be able, also, to monitor, track, record and store sights, sounds and scripts related to terrorism and corruption.
Indications are that the National Security Adviser (NSA) and The Presidency were convinced to splash the huge amount on the comprehensive bugger following the failure of earlier initiatives to curtail Nigeria’s twin headaches of terrorism and corruption.
In government circles, disappointment has trailed attempts to provide security coverage through the formulation and implementation of policies like the Bank Verification Numbers (BVN), National Identity Number (NIN) and mandatory Subscriber Identity Module (SIM card) registration for telephone subscribers, all of which have failed to yield the expected dividend of a safer, more secure and less corrupt environment.
Ezeocha said: “Of course, we know that, for long, they have been doing all sorts of things to monitor people. But it is just because they are going for something new now. Government has always been spying on people’s conversation, businesses and dealings.”
Citing places like Eastern Germany, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Apartheid South Africa and the Communist world where the liberties of citizens got greatly curtailed, skeptics pointed out that although the technology might be acquired as part of legitimate anti-terrorism protocols, it could end up becoming a veritable addition to the government’s current clampdown on opposition voices.
Part of that clampdown, as observers pointed out, included the government’s earlier attempt to bulldoze the “Hate Speech” law into the statute books, except that the wide condemnation it received appeared to have either slowed down the move or completely thrown it under the bus.
Additionally, the CAMA drama is cited. When the National Assembly worked on the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020 (CAMA), it conducted public hearings. The idea met stiff opposition, especially from NGOs, CSOs and religious organisations, who feared it could become a dangerous gagging and censorship tool in the hands of the government.
However, all contrary views were rubbished in the final analysis and the Legislature secretly collaborated with the Executive to railroad the Bill through both chambers, following which Buhari uncharacteristically signed it into law with dispatch.
It has also been pointed out how quickly government inept at tracing ransom monies and terrorists’ funds got the CBN, through the BVN, to shutter the accounts of profiled #EndSARS protagonists.
The BVN also came in handy against Sunday Igboho, the Yoruba activist who had all his bank accounts red-taped following his citizen’s action against Fulani killer herdsmen in his native Ibarapa rural birthplace in Oyo State, culminating in the razing of the residence of the Seriki Fulani fingered as alleged middleman for ransom payment to kidnappers.
Should the government push through with this expanded BIG BROTHER spy web that target encrypted communications, it would be following in the footsteps of some Third World regimes like the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni whom reports in 2015 claimed procured from an Israeli company for the sum of $85.5 million a similar monitoring centre for spying on his nation’s internet traffic.
It’s Going To Be Pretty Tough
United States-based IT Specialist, Chris Tunde Odediran, says the deployment of the ‘Big Brother’ technology is going to be a tough job for the DSS, if really, it is targeted at WhatsApp messages.
“I think the technology is called ‘Big Brother’ because of what it does. We have many of such to monitor regular phone lines and text messages but they are mostly softwares, not hardwares,” Odediran said. “WhatsApp cannot be bugged because it is encrypted; it is end-to-end, like a padlock. Unless you have the keys or codes, you cannot de-encrypt it. All encryption works the same. Not even the owners of Facebook can de-encrypt WhatsApp messages. The technology is tough. Encryption technology is the same; it involves billions of codes, it’s impregnable. There is no known way now that can break the WhatsApp encryption codes as they run in billions.”
He, however, believes that’s not the best route for Nigeria to go now, adding, “Though, I don’t know what the law says.”
According to the IT Specialist, “Under a democratic government, privacy is democratic right. In the U.S., before you can be monitored, there must be a warrant from the court. But not in a non-democratic society, deformed and unhealthy democracy like Nigeria, Russia. Definitely not! Nigeria is operating between democracy and dictatorship because of many years of military rule. The Nigerian Government is becoming intolerant.”
Human rights agencies like Amnesty International have fought against such “technological solutions” to no avail. The reason is not far-fetched.
For the reason of enlightened self-interest that sees them willing to maintain the status quo of benefits they derive from friendly governments, Western nations will usually support Third World regimes to deploy any method to sustain themselves in power.
However, in August 2015, Germany unilaterally announced a Federal amendment to its laws seeking “to stop the use of [surveillance] technology for internal repression in countries of destination.”
Ramping Up Surveillance
The Nigerian Government’s novel plan will be ramping up communications surveillance a notch higher than presently obtains.
Currently, phone companies secretly record, collect and divulge call logs and cellular communications from specified persons of interest, in addition to courts having the latitude to compel carriers to disclose recorded phone and text messages.
Otherwise, information gleaned from such recordings is untenable and unacceptable to any judicial or legal exercise.
In the words of Olufelo, “Be it in Africa or the Western nations, when you go to court, you cannot use a tapping device or eavesdropper as evidence; it is inadmissible in criminal or civil litigation.”
Like The Watergate Scandal
In several countries, communications snooping has boomeranged and guilty perpetrators pay a heavy price.
In 2018, for example, some United States cell-phone carriers, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, involved in selling customers’ real-time location data, publicly denounced that arm of their business after the regulator agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), charged the companies with negligent for failing to protect data relating to their subscribers’ personal privacy.
In fact, US President Richard Nixon met his Waterloo over the Watergate Scandal and he was forced out of office in 1974 after being found complicit in secret recordings made of conversations around opposition Democrats