Nigeria’s government has reportedly awarded an internet surveillance contract to Elbit Systems, an Israeli firm for US$40 million ostensibly to aid intelligence gathering and national security. The secretly awarded contract is ostensibly to spy on the nation’s internet user’s communication.
The rapidly rising number of internet users in Nigeria has become a matter of concern to Nigerian public officials, many of whom have openly expressed their displeasure at the unregulated use of the Internet especially the social media. Both President Jonathan’s administration and officers of the Nigerian legislature have called for regulation of the use of the internet.
Yehuda Vered, Elbit System’s General Manager announced that: “Elbit Systems will supply its Wise Intelligence Technology (WiT) system to an unnamed country in Africa under a new $40 million contract announced on 24 April… for Intelligence Analysis and Cyber Defense.” He did not name Nigeria as the country that awarded the contract.
Premium Times, an online news portal, reported that multiple and very reliable sources in President Jonathan’s administration confirmed to it that Nigeria is the “unnamed African country.”
Yehuda Vered claimed that “Elbit Systems is a world leader in the fields of intelligence analysis and cyber defense, with proven solutions highly suitable for countries, armies and critical infrastructure sites.” He added that Elbit’s WiT System is already field-proven, fully operational and customisable.
Vered added that “Elbit Systems is a world leader in the fields of intelligence analysis and cyber defense, with proven solutions highly suitable for countries, armies and critical infrastructure sites.”
Nigeria witnessed a dramatic growth in internet usage which rose from 200,000 Internet users in 2002 to 47 million in 2013, according to data from the Global Internet User, an Internet audit group. Nigeria presently ranks 10th in a global ranking of the number of internet and it constitutes 27 per cent of Africa’s total Internet users, far ahead of Egypt (19th global ranking) and South Africa (37th in global ranking).
The Munk School for Global Affairs at the University of Toronto had in April 2013 alerted the world that Nigeria, Egypt, and Kenya were deploying Internet surveillance and censorship technology developed by an American company, Blue Coat, which specializes in online security. Deep Coat’s censorship devices use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), a technology employed by many western Internet Service Providers, to manage network traffic and suppress unwanted connections.
Civil society groups protested saying it will makes it possible for government censors to look into every single Internet Protocol packet and subject it to special treatment based on content (censored or banned words) or type (email, VoIP or BitTorrent Protocol).
They contended that DPI not only threatens the principle of internet neutrality and the privacy of users, but also makes individual users identifiable and, in countries that flout the rule of law and violate human rights, often exposes them to arbitrary imprisonment, violence or even torture.
Aside invading the privacy of Nigeria internet users, the manner of award of the contract was not transparent as it contravened the procedure for public procurement of goods and services as stipulated by the Public Procurement Act 2007.
Though the Act gives room for single source contracts, Section 47 (3) (iii) of the 2007 Act stipulates that single source contracts are to be awarded in emergency situations such as “natural disasters or a financial crisis”, the Elbit System contract did not meet any of the requirements under which such special contracts could be awarded.