Nigeria and the UPR: Human rights on the internet

Author's name: 
Maureen Nwobodo
LAGOS

The final adoption of recommendations made to Nigeria at the Universal Periodic Review took place on the 20th of March 2014 (video available here). Nigeria, a member state of the UN, was previously reviewed at the 17th session of the UPR in October 2013. During the 2014 review, APC read an oral statement on behalf of a coalition of civil society organisations at the UPR Report Consideration session for Nigeria.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is an international mechanism introduced by the Human Rights Council (HRC) to periodically examine and address the human rights practices of member states.

A coalition of civil society groups, including the Association for Progressive Communications, Fantsuam Foundation and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria submitted a joint report to the UPR for Nigeria. This report was a call to include a review of the State’s performance in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms on the internet, particularly freedom of expression, freedom of association, and women’s human rights online. The joint submission provided valuable insights into human rights concerns in Nigeria as regards to the proposed “Copyright Amendment Bill, the Telecom Facilities (Lawful Interception of Information) Bill, Nigeria Communication Commission’s (Draft) Lawful Intercept Regulation, Telephone consumer protection Bill 2013, A bill for an act to amend the National Communications Commission Act 2003 2013, Personal Information and Data protection Act 2013, Electronic Transactions Bill 2013, and the Cybercrime Bill, all of which discuss the role of internet intermediaries in data interception.

The stakeholder summary of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to Nigeria highlighted this joint submission and the need to address many of the issues raised. However, the intersection between the internet and human rights has not been highlighted on the final report to be debated at the UN Human Rights Council meeting in March. Challenges highlighted in the UPR instead include the overall security challenge faced by the country, the persistent practice of female genital mutilation and early marriages, the back log in reports to the UN Treaty bodies, the end to the moratorium on the death penalty, and the Same Sex Marriage Bill, recently passed to law.

While they are of serious concern and work is needed, internet related issues have remained unresolved. Since February 2011, Nigerian telecoms companies have been mandated to conduct sim-card registrations and collect the personal data of users. This was done in the pretense of fighting crime, but the legal mechanism to back it up and ensure lawful access to information has not been instituted.

The Nigerian government in 2013 signed a $40 million contract with an Israeli based firm called Elbit Systems to monitor internet communication in the country. Provisions were made in the country’s 2013 budget for a “Wise Intelligence Network Harvest Analyzer System”, thus confirming the government intent towards monitoring and surveillance.

Despite the call for the suspension of that contract and initiation of a probe by a member of the Nigerian House of Representative Hon. Shehu Guasu, the contract is still being actively implemented. A recent report has it that the Israeli firm has commenced the installation of the comprehensive spying facility in Abuja.

It has also been revealed by Citizen Lab that Nigeria has joined the class of nations that have an active FinFisher Command and Control servers, which are designed with the sole purpose of helping governments with Surveillance.

Recent revelations by Paradigm Initiative Nigeria have additionally shown that the Nigerian State Security Service (SSS) and all private telecoms operators in Nigeria are all clients to DigVox, a company that specialises in lawful interception services.

Furthermore, Citizen Lab, through a hacking team, could establish that a Milan-based company, has sold to Nigeria and other governments a Remote Control System (RCS) of monitoring implants (i.e., spyware).

Disturbing evidence by The Guardian has also uncovered that Microsoft’s assistance to the government’s surveillance on its citizens had run much deeper than the company has earlier divulged to the public. “This deception was reported to have been applied to their popular Skype, Hotmail and Outlook services.

In a country where there is recurrent abuse of power at the hands of corrupt public office holders and law enforcement officers, these surveillance practices is of particular concern.

Citizens, journalist and civil society groups who voice their opinions against government decisions can be victimized in the pretext of national security, therefore compromising their fundamental human rights to expression, liberty, and privacy online. A recent example is that of Tonye Okio, a former representative of the former governor of Bayelsa state at the state’s liaison office in Abuja, who criticized his governor on Facebook and was subsequently arrested by police officers and kept under lock and key for 86 days.

It is hoped that these internet rights issues raised would be taken seriously, and recommendations made from joint submissions be considered for adoption by the Nigerian government as the Universal Periodic Review working group presents their report in March 2014.

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