By Musliu Mojeed,
Nigeria’s active 120 million GSM subscribers need to know this: The Nigeria Police, the State Security Service [SSS] and the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited [NIGCOMSAT] are, on behalf of the Nigerian government, possibly hacking your phones and listening in to your conversations.
The three state agencies are able to do this with the aid of an over N11 billion sophisticated equipment procured and installed for them by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Knowing what Nigerians are discussing over the telephone was too important a necessity for Mr. Jonathan that he awarded two different contracts for the same purpose in less than two months interval.
On August 31, 2010, less than six months after he became acting president, Mr. Jonathan awarded an approximately N6billion contract to an Israeli-owned but Abuja-based security firm, V & V Nigeria Limited, for the “Procurement of strategic GSM Tracking System for the Nigeria Police Force and expansion/upgrade of the existing system with the DSS”.
The project, awarded to the contractor by the Ministry of Police Affairs, was jointly hosted by the Nigeria Police and Nigeria Communication Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT), under the Nigeria Police Reform Programme.
Less than two months after – October 21, 2010 – another N2.61 billion contract was awarded by the same Ministry of Police Affairs “for the procurement of Strategic GSM Tracking and Interception Systems for the Department of State Services, under the Nigeria Police Reform”.
This other contract, which appears a duplicate of the first, was awarded to a British security firm, Gamma TSE Limited, which, according to the information on its website, “manufactures highly specialized surveillance vehicles and integrated surveillance systems, helping government agencies collect data and communicate it to key decision-makers for timely decisions to be made”.
The two clearly similar projects were however neither budgeted for nor listed among contracts approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in 2010. They were also not captured in the government’s budget implementation reports for that year.
There is also no indication that the contracts complied with Nigeria’s public procurement law, which requires competitive bidding for government contracts of that magnitude.
Yet there was a separate project in the 2010 budget by the Nigeria Police Force (not the Ministry of Police Affairs) for “the procurement of GSM interception and tracking equipment installed in 10 configured vehicles (security/criminal intelligence)” for which N2.5billion was budgeted.
It is not clear whether this other project was executed at the time, but it was also not captured in the budget implementation report as well as FEC approvals for the year.
Insiders at the State Security Service, the Nigerian Police and the NIGCOMSAT said while Gamma TSE delivered on the contract awarded to it, they were not sure that V & V, linked to a top politician from the South-South, performed satisfactorily.
Gamma TSE could not be reached for comments. Repeated telephone calls to its London office were neither answered nor returned.
V & V also declined to comment when contacted by PREMIUM TIMES. The official, who answered the call made to the company’s Abuja office, directed all enquiries on the project to the Ministry of Police Affairs.
But the spokesperson for the Ministry of Police Affairs, James Odaudu, also declined comments, just like his counterpart at NIGCOMSAT, Sonny Aragba-Akpore. Both officials said they should not be expected to divulge details about security-related installations.
Details about these new surveillance contracts emerged about 22 months after PREMIUM TIMES exposed a similar $40 million surveillance contract the administration secretly, also in open violation of lawful contracting procedures, awarded to an Israeli firm, Elbit Systems, with headquarters in Haifa.
At the time, Nigerian rights activists considered the project one of the most far-reaching policies ever designed in the country’s history to invade the privacy of citizens.
The clandestine programme allows the government spy on citizens’ computers and Internet communications and emails under the guise of intelligence gathering and national security.
Embarrassed by the widespread national outrage that arose after this newspaper exclusively exposed the secret contract, the presidency had summoned the management of Elbit Systems for a meeting to explain why the contract should not be revoked after it allegedly breached a confidential clause in the contract.
In May 2013, the House of Representatives asked the federal government to suspend the contract, saying it was awarded in breach of the Fiscal Responsibility Act and that the deployment of such spy equipment would violate citizens’ constitutional rights.
The House then ordered the immediate suspension of the project to allow its Committees on Information and Computer Technology, Human Rights, and National Security, to conduct an inquiry.
The House is however yet to make the outcome of its enquiry public, and the project has since gone ahead. Intelligence sources say the Internet Spy device has since come alive.
The spying on telephone and Internet communications of citizens is continuing despite the country not having any law in place to regulate such undertakings by the nation’s security agencies.
The Cybercrime Bill 2014, which allows a measure of communication interception, is yet to be passed into law by the National Assembly.
Part 3 Section 22 of the Bill, which deals with Interception of electronic communications, says: “Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the content of any electronic communication is reasonably required for the purposes of a criminal investigation or proceedings, a Judge may on the basis of information on oath: (a) order a service provider, through the application of technical means to collect, record, permit or assist competent authorities with the collection or recording of content data associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system; or (b) authorize a law enforcement officer to collect or record such data through application or technical means.”
However, the bill, initiated by the presidency, was passed in December by the Senate but it only scaled second reading in the House of Representatives on Tuesday and was referred to the House committees on justice and information for further scrutiny.
When eventually passed by both chambers, it would be harmonised and then sent to the President for assent.