RIGHTSView, By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: Fight cyber-crime, avoid police state

Posted by News Express | 7 October 2015 | 3,006 times

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Ms Monica Joseph (not real name) is a 65-year-old retiree in Manchester, United Kingdom. She worked in the creative industry for many years as a top-most actress in the British society. She saved a huge sum of money for use in taking care of her expenses in retirement. One e-mail letter purportedly originating from Boston, USA, but actually sent from Lagos by a con-artist who wrote telling her that he had over £20 million in an escrow account somewhere in a United States-based finance house. That was all it took to sweep off this woman’s entire financial assets that she set up over several years of hard work. However, her greed to grow her post-retirement funding assets got the better side of her, without knowing that she has been tricked and ripped off by a criminally-minded Smart Alec.

The author of the dubious mail to the unsuspecting British retiree said that he was searching for an account-holder of British origin through whom he could transfer 50 per cent of the savings, so he does not attract undue attention from the security establishment. Subsequently, he offered her generous bonus since, according to him, the person providing the bank account to warehouse the humongous sum is entitled to a huge chunk of the money to be transferred.  

Deceived and swayed by the sweet-talking man, the retiree provided her account details. This was the beginning of her problem because one thing led to another, until the conman made her empty her savings, before he disappeared. But on the invitation of the Serious Crime office, domiciled in the London Metropolitan Police, the fraudster was traced to a corner of Lagos and was arrested. But he had already blown away the lady's life savings. This is just a tip of the iceberg because there are nearly ten dozen persons from foreign jurisdictions who have fallen prey to the activities of fraudsters based in Nigeria. No doubt the activities of cyber fraudsters have over the last two decades given Nigeria bad image globally. It got to a crescendo when crime statisticians adopted the phrase 419 to describe the crime of obtaining money by tricks. 

The number 419 is the section of the criminal code in Nigeria that outlaws obtaining money through false pretences and fraudulent means. There is hardly any Nigerian adult that can claim not to have encountered this internet rats on rampage, and using different dubious techniques to hoodwink unsuspecting members of the public to part with their hard-earned money. Some of these cyber criminals could go as far as offering juicy, but non-existent appointments in big government offices but usually demand payment upfront to facilitate the so-called political appointments. It was a big relief then when in the earlier stage or so of his administration when the then President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and followed it up with the appointment of the Adamawa State-born police officer, Mr Nuhu Ribadu, as the first executive chairman of the agency. Ribadu went to work primarily to dethrone advanced fee fraudsters from their diabolical thrones of destroying other people's genuine business enterprises. The proactive measures and modus operandi adopted by the then chairman of EFCC sent fears into the spines of major fraudsters, just as the crack team headed by this cop made successful raids which destroyed many evil empires set up by leading fraudsters who had even penetrated the political space and some of them bribed their ways to become legislators in both the sub- regional and national legislatures. 

Ridiculously, Maurice Ibekwe (now late) who was an alleged fraudster somehow secured a high-profile election  as a member of the House of Representatives and, ironically, was made the chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Anti-Narcotics and Financial Crimes. This was how low politics could get in Nigeria. Ribadu picked him up and began his prosecution for fraud, but in-between the trial, the man died in prison. However, the exit of Mr Ribadu has left a yawning gap, because of the credibility deficits of those holding forte at the leadership of EFCC. The crime commission has, therefore, unraveled and has become mired in the widening spectra of allegations of bribery and fraudulent conversion of confiscated exhibits and cash kept in their custody. Mr Ibrahim Lamorde, also from Adamawa State, who heads the discredited EFCC is being accused of theft of exhibits and confiscated assets taken from convicted fraudsters over the years. He has denied these audacious allegations in a three-page expensive advertorial, paid with tax-payers money. 

Following the declining efficiency and effectiveness of the current hierarchy of the EFCC, the fraudsters who had taken flight while the Ribadu-led board lasted, have powerfully returned to their old ways. The resurgence of the widespread activities of the internet fraudsters made most Nigerians to clamour for the making of strict Cyber Crime Prevention Act that could be used as a tool by all law-enforcement agencies to check the daredevilry of internet fraud kingpins in Nigeria. The immediate past federal administration, therefore, heard the cries of worried Nigerians and decided to partner with the National Assembly. This resulted in the emergence of the year 2015 anti-Cyber Crime Act which, to all intents and purposes, is set up to work as a unified and comprehensive legal, regulatory and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of cyber crimes in Nigeria. Accordingly, the Cyber Crimes (prohibition, prevention, etc) Act of 2015 is put in place to also ensure the protection of critical national information infrastructure, and promotes cyber security and the protection of computer systems and networks, electronic communications, data and computer programmes, intellectual property and privacy rights. The move made successfully by the Nigerian Government to enact legislation against Cyber Crimes is in compliance with global expectations from nations to battle the rising economic damages done by the criminal activities of hackers and other cyber criminals to the national economy. Cyber security is widely becoming an important issue, so says experts. In international politics, cyber security is a major cause of diplomatic spats between USA and China and Russia, on different fronts.

Writing under the title, ‘Could hackers devastate the US economy?’, Mr Jacob Silverman said: “Cyber security is becoming an important issue. Many media organisations and government officials rank it just as grave threat as terrorist attacks, nuclear proliferation and global warming. With so much of commercial, government and private systems connected to the internet, the concerns and fears are warranted.” Putting all the prevailing factors together regarding the extensive and economic devastation unleashed by cyber terrorists and criminals, the need for Nigeria to put into place a cyber crime prevention law was long overdue before the extant law was passed and signed. But in doing this, there appears to be some hidden plots by officials of government that included some obnoxious provisions that specifically target independent social media voices and writers. If these invidious, sinister and damaging provisions are not eliminated and the law amended, the possibility of Nigeria evolving into a police state is not farfetched, thereby defeating the very essence that precipitated the emergence of the Cyber Crime Prevention Act. I will return to the definition of the characters that make for the evolution of the police state and subsequently to call on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to quickly move to amend the extant Cyber Crimes Prevention Act of 2015. Buhari’s first stint as a military leader was replete with instances of violations of press freedoms, including the arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists. 

Few weeks back, some social media commentators and bloggers were apprehended and arraigned in the Lagos State High Court, under this anti-Cyber Crime Act, just for circulating opinions some big men felt were libelous or damaging to their institutional and reputational status in the society. One of the bloggers spent over two weeks before public pressure compelled the judge of the particular Lagos State High Court to grant him bail. The most disturbing provision of the Nigerian Cyber Crime Prohibition, Prevention Act of 2015 is section 24 (2) (A) which provides thus: “A person who knowingly or intentionally transmit or causes the transmission of any communication through a computer system or network (a) to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm to another; and (c) containing any threat to harm the property or reputation of the addresses of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime,  to extort from any  person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value.” 

Wait for this. If the accused is convicted he/she could face the following prospects: fine of #25,000,000.00 and in the case of paragraph (c) of this subsection, to imprisonment for a term of 5 years or a minimum fine of #15,000,000.00.

Apart from the article (b) of this subsection 2 of section 24 of the anti-Cyber Crime Act of 2015, which rightly punishes severely the dastardly crime of kidnapping for ransoms, the worry is found in  articles (a) and  (c) of that subsection, which specifically serves as booby-traps for ‘rebellious’ and anti-government social media commentators. The whole articles of this law as adumbrated, offend relevant provisions of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in chapter four of the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria and must be amended forthwith. 

Section 39 (1) of the constitution says: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

These obnoxious sections of the anti-Cyber Crime Act, 2015 must be amended, unless Nigeria wants to evolve into a police state.

From the website www.thedailybell.com/glossary/3444/Police-State, we learnt that police state implies: “The term ‘Police State’ was first used in Austria in 1851 to describe the creation of a national police force. Prior to that, order had been maintained at a local level, and response was on a per-incident basis, as was the case in most societies. In 1865, the New England State of Massachusetts in the US, established a state police force, the first example of such in the United States.” The publication further averred that, “Over time, however, as state and national police forces have become commonplace, the term has shifted. The connotation of police state now closely relates to totalitarianism or, at least, extreme authoritarianism.” The writers also defined the modern-day concept of police state as follows: “Dictionaries now define police state as ‘a state or country in which a repressive government maintains control through the police’ or ‘a nation in which the police, especially a secret police, summarily suppresses any social, economic or political act that conflicts with governmental policy.’” From Merriam-Webster, a police state is defined as: “A political unit characterised by repressive governmental control of political, economic and social life, usually by an arbitrary exercise of power by police and especially secret police, in place of regular operation of administrative and judicial organs of the government, according to publicly known procedures.”

Is this what Nigeria wants to evolve into under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch? From the harsh encounters of the bloggers picked up by the police and thrown into prison by a court, whose presiding judge behaved like an interested party by refusing bail in a matter that bail is within the discretionary powers of the judicial officer, is to say the least distasteful, and graphically depicts Nigeria as a country at the verge of evolving into a police state. All the illegal provisions in the Cyber Crime Prevention Act must be expunged, because Nigeria still remains a constitutional democracy. 

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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