The Institute of Development Studies has made some startling revelations in its new report. According to the study, Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest economy, has spent a sum of $2.7 billion on surveillance equipment contracts between 2013 and 2022. On average, this amounts to $12 per citizen. The report further stated that Nigerian expenditure on surveillance technology surpassed that of the other countries on the continent. Perhaps the country is living up to its nickname as the giant of Africa.
Successive governments have allocated funds to surveillance technology for various purposes including internet intervention, mobile interception, and social media monitoring. The country’s government has hired contractors from many countries including Israel, Cyprus, the UK, USA, and Bulgaria. The report, which is entitled “Mapping the Supply of Surveillance Technologies to Africa,” alleges that the surveillance equipment has been utilized for spying on citizens. This is an act that contravenes the Nigerian constitution as well as intentional laws.
Loophole in the constitution allows surveillance.
According to the report, Section 37 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees that the government will protect citizens’ rights to privacy of communication. However, there is copious evidence that multiple state agencies use a growing range of digital surveillance technologies to spy on citizens in breach of these constitutional guarantees. But while the Constitution protects citizens’ right to communication, a particular regulation allows state agencies to willfully use surveillance technologies on people.
It is known as the Lawful Interception of Communications Act. According to this law, state agencies have leveraged this law to not only conduct surveillance operations but intercept citizens’ communications, whether through phone calls or social media, with compliance from telecom companies. The report also revealed that state agencies have targeted political opposition groups, journalists, and civil activists via this technology. An instance of this was when Solomon Akuma, a pharmacist, who criticized the then-president Muhammadu Buhari and late Chief of Staff Abba Kyari, was arrested by the police in April 2020.
Shocking that FG dedicates huge money to surveillance despite economy.
Contravening the human right to expression, the pharmacist was made to await trial for three months, all the while kept under guard. When he got his day in court, he was charged with terrorism, sedition, criminal intimidation of the president, and threat to the life of the president. After spending nearly three years in custody, he was freed in January 2023. Even despite the economic woes that citizens experience daily, the Federal Government has a high taste for surveillance in Nigeria.
Nigerian economy has taken worse hits in the last few years, forcing businesses to shut down and discouraging foreign investments. Given the state of affairs, it is shocking to see that past governments have dedicated huge sums of money to surveillance. The surveillance is not even targeted at securing citizens but to spy on them. While the constitution forbids this, the Lawful Interception of Communication Act complicates matters.
Avenue for serious debate on laws of the country.
This scenario presents an avenue for lawmakers in the two legislative chambers of the nation to debate and fashion out ways to properly operate this security aspect of the country. Perhaps lawmakers should focus on introducing a single regulation that provides clarity on surveillance. This is a goal that civil society groups and other concerned parties must work together to achieve. The public should also raise awareness and concerned citizens should create discuss around this loophole on social media as well as on the television and radio.
Institute of Development Studies: Website