Surveillance equipment refers to a wide range of tools and devices used to monitor and observe people, places, or activities for various purposes. It can serve both legitimate and illicit objectives, so its use is subject to legal regulations and ethical considerations.
A recent Institute of Development Studies report has unveiled some astonishing findings regarding Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy. According to the study, Nigeria has committed an astounding $2.7 billion to surveillance equipment contracts spanning from 2013 to 2022. When this staggering sum is broken down, it averages out to $12 per citizen.
This report goes on to reveal that Nigeria’s expenditure on surveillance technology surpasses that of any other African nation. Over the years, successive governments have allocated funds for surveillance technology deployment, covering a range of purposes such as internet control, mobile interception, and social media monitoring. Contractors from various countries, including Israel, Cyprus, the UK, the USA, and Bulgaria, have been engaged by the Nigerian government to fulfill these endeavors.
Surveillance Equipment in Africa
Titled “Mapping the Supply of Surveillance Technologies to Africa,” the report alleges that these surveillance tools have been employed to spy on its citizens. This activity is in direct contravention of the Nigerian constitution and international laws.
The report states, “Section 37 of the Nigerian constitution 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.”
It’s important to note that despite the constitutional protection of citizens’ communication rights, a specific regulation, known as the Lawful Interception of Communications Act, permits state agencies to deliberately employ surveillance technologies on individuals. Under this law, state agencies have been conducting surveillance operations and intercepting citizens’ communications, be it phone calls or social media, with the cooperation of telecom companies.
Furthermore, state agencies have targeted political opposition groups, journalists, and civil activists through the use of surveillance technology. For instance, in 2020, Solomon Akuma, a pharmacist, openly criticized then-President Muhammadu Buhari and the late Chief of Staff Abba Kyari. As a consequence, Akuma was arrested by the police in April 2020.
In a blatant disregard for the right to freedom of expression, he was held in custody for three months before his trial. When the trial finally took place, he faced charges such as terrorism, sedition, criminal intimidation of the president, and threats to the president’s life. After nearly three years in detention, he was eventually released in January 2023.
Surveillance Thrives in Nigeria Amid Economic Hardships
This excessive appetite for surveillance in Nigeria persists, even amid economic difficulties. Nigeria’s economy has experienced a prolonged period of hardship, resulting in the closure of many small businesses and the departure of foreign companies.
Additionally, the cost of living has surged over recent years, further discouraging foreign investments. Given these troubling circumstances, it is alarming to observe the substantial allocation of funds toward surveillance by previous governments. Moreover, this surveillance is not directed at safeguarding citizens but rather at spying on them.
In light of these conflicting laws and practices, there is a pressing need for lawmakers to introduce a comprehensive regulation that brings clarity to the issue of surveillance. This is a goal that civil society groups and concerned stakeholders must collaborate on to achieve.