INVESTIGATION: Nigerian Hacking Governors Forum: Amaechi, Akpabio, Uduaghan hacked phones too

Seriake Dickson, Godswill Akpabio, Emmanuel Uduaghan, and Rotimi Amaechi, some Nigerian governors hacking telephones.
Seriake Dickson, Godswill Akpabio, Emmanuel Uduaghan, and Rotimi Amaechi, some Nigerian governors hacking telephones. Creative: Mohammed Lere

The governor of Bayelsa state, Seriake Dickson, is not the only politician hacking phones and intercepting communication of political peers and rivals in Nigeria.

Almost all recent governors of the South South region of Nigeria intercepted calls and hacked phones and computers, an illegal practice that gave them backdoor access to many people’s private lives, an ongoing PREMIUM TIMES investigation has revealed.

Our findings show that Rotimi Amaechi, former Rivers state governor; Godswill Akpabio, former Akwa Ibom state governor; and Emmanuel Uduaghan, former Delta state governor illegally acquired technologies that allowed them conduct mass surveillance and hack people’s gadgets, mainly to eavesdrop on their conversations, know who they talked with and what their plans were.

These three formers governors are the latest privacy violators and spymasters weeks after Mr. Dickson was exposed for similar illegal practice. They all exited office as governors in May, following the end of their second term in office.

Most of the hacking carried out by the governors occurred within the last four years, during the last term of their two-term tenures as governors and at times in liaison with compromised federal security authorities.

In fact, those who should know said some officials of the State Security Service, SSS, colluded with the governors as they engaged in massive hacking, helping disguise their acts as federal security projects.

Officials at the office of the National Security Adviser admitted demanding explanations from the hacking governors over their illegal surveillance programmes at different times with each of them giving similar excuses.

“They claimed they were using it to track kidnappers,” officials at the office of the National Security Adviser said. “The governors claimed they were carrying out the operations with the SSS, but our investigations showed they were running it from their offices.”

Investigators from the office of the National Security Adviser later found the governors’ claims that they were hacking phones to track kidnappers to be false, suggesting the governors targeted political superiors, associates and peers, while using the SSS to disguise the expedition as approved national security projects.

Some politicians and businessmen interviewed for this story from the affected states said they knew all along that these governors monitored their communications illegally.

A contractor from Akwa Ibom said Governor Akpabio refused to pay him for the project he executed for the state after he tapped his phone and overheard some critical comments he made about the former governor to some friends.

“He once boasted to me that he knew what I was doing and what I was saying about him,” the contractor said.

Rivers State

The Rivers spying program started in 2008 – in the wake of the Niger Delta amnesty program – as a security contract targeted at helping the police in the state respond faster to crime scenes using a C4i (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) technology deployed by an Israeli military security firm, MPD Systems.

The project saw the Rivers State government and MPD Systems train at least 1,500 security officials, providing the perfect ‘federal’ cover under which the political spying was carried out.

The spokesperson of the Amaechi regime, Ibim Semenitari, argued that the project could not have been used for spying on politicians.

“Given the well publicized infractions between the Rivers State Government and the GEJ (Goodluck Ebele Jonathan)-led federal Government the state would not have been able to embark on the issues raised without the security agencies clamping down on its officials,” she said.

She also argued that the project was approved by late former president, Umaru Musa yar’Adua, after a presentation attended by Nigeria’s service chiefs at the time and the then head of the SSS, Afakriya Gadzama.

“Equipment were imported with the approval of the NSA,” and “The outfit was manned by security officials drawn from the Police and SSS who were responsible to their state commands,” Ms. Semenitari argued.

The office of the National Security Adviser denied issuing the End User Certificate for C4i. Also, the command centre was installed and operated from the Government house, rather than the SSS or Police department.

Mr. Amaechi’s last term as Rivers state governor was very turbulent. He fell out with his close allies, including former first lady, Patience Jonathan, and the current governor, Nyesom Wike. His deputy governor jumped ship few days to the elections.

The state recorded an unprecedented level of political violence in the run-up to the general elections. Mr. Amaechi’s political party, the All Progressives Congress lost that election in the state. A commission of inquiry Mr. Amaechi empanelled to probe the election violence recorded at least 30 deaths of the former governor’s party members. The opposing Peoples Democratic Party boycotted the inquiry.

Akwa Ibom state

Even though Mr. Akpabio and his Rivers counterpart disagreed on many fronts, their appetite for surreptitiously collecting private data from their political associates and rivals appear to tally. Both former governors started their spying facilities on similar premise – to fight kidnapping and other related crimes.

“We knew that he (Godswill Akpabio) acquired a device to monitor people’s telephone calls but there was absolutely nothing we could do,” Umana Okon who was secretary to the state government when the device was installed said. “The device was acquired at the time kidnapping was quite high in the state. But after kidnapping abated, it was used to monitor telephone calls of private citizens and government officials.”

The period when Mr. Akpabio used the phone hacking tools in Akwa Ibom also coincided with a period that was fraught with political assassinations, kidnapping and intimidation.

The National Security Adviser, once in 2012, declined to issue Mr. Akpabio an End User Certificate to buy Hacking Team’s cyber warfare tools.

The Akpabio regime in Akwa Ibom denied running the hacking facility.

Aniekan Umana, the state’s commissioner of information – he was also the information commissioner under Akpabio – said Mr. Akpabio never ran any private security facility, insisting that everything security was run by the SSS and police.

Officials of that government who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES in confidence however confirmed the existence of the spying facility. Like Rivers’, Mr. Akpabio’s spying facility was also installed and run from the governor’s office rather than the SSS or police department.
The state government also denied the claims.

“The governor (Mr. Akpabio) has no need to hack anyone’s phone,” Aniekan Umana said. He claimed that when the state sought the Hacking Team’s tools, it was to help the security agencies.

When the spying became very obvious, many politicians who felt their privacy had been invaded complained to the National Security Adviser but nothing was done.

With a new government installed since May 29, the opposition in Akwa Ibom are now calling for a full-scale investigation of the surveillance programmes and its privacy breaches.

“If the law was breached in any way, those guilty will be made to face justice. That is the minimum we expect from the Federal Government,” Mr. Okon, now an opposition leader, demanded.

Delta state

Delta state was not as violent as both Rivers and Akwa Ibom state during the last elections. But Emmanuel Uduaghan, the state’s former governor who operated the spying tools – also from his office building – cited kidnapping as the reason for purchasing the tool.

Mr. Uduaghan could not be reached for his comments. Text messages and telephone calls to his spokespersons were neither answered nor returned.

Political Goons, Cyber Bullies

The Rivers state C4i, Ms. Semenitari claims, was handed over to the new government, suggesting it is probably still in use.

The Akwa Ibom facility is still in use in the governor’s office, our sources said.

The current state of the Delta state spying facility is unclear.

The office of the National Security Adviser claims the hacking governors repeatedly ignored warnings to discontinue their “illegal” projects, in apparent abuse of their political influence.

Mr. Amaechi was a strong member of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum at the time. He later fell out with former President Goodluck Jonathan and became the leader of President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign team. He is currently a close ally of Mr. Buhari.

Messrs. Akpabio and Uduaghan were strong allies of former President Jonathan. Mr. Akpabio later became chairman of the PDP Governor’s Forum. He is now a serving senator and Minority leader of the Senate.

Bayelsa Hacking Team

At the time the NSA was probing these three governors, the hacking expedition of the Bayelsa state governor, Seriake Dickson, was largely unknown.

Until it was exposed by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Dickson’s hacking activities were stealth and done without permission by the office of the National Security Adviser.

It was only revealed after Hacking Team, the Italian cyber weaponry firm, which provided Mr. Dickson with attack tools was itself hacked early July and internal company documents leaked to the public.

The documents indicate governor’s hacking activities began in 2012 and lasted through 2013, according to Hacking Team’s leaked internal company documents.

In Nigeria, only federal security agencies are allowed to acquire cyber attack and defence tools. And when they did, it has to be with the permission of the National Security Adviser who provides End User Certificates. The right to either intercept communications or act to suspend rights in the face of national security rests with the Federal Government.

None of the hacking governors got either permission or End User Certificates from the Office of the National Security Adviser before embarking on their privacy-breaching surveillance.

In fact, the former Akwa Ibom state governor, now a senator, once failed to secure an End User Certificate from the NSA to buy Hacking Team’s Galileo in 2013.

Cyber security analysts say data acquired by the hacking governors may have been used – and could be used in future – for cyber bullying, intimidation and blackmail.

These illegal hacking activities of politicians spotlights the vulnerability of the private lives of many Nigerians. The Hacking Team’s hack revelations and this, from the office of the National Security Adviser, shows anyone – individuals and organizations – with enough financial and political clout can acquire and deploy hitech hacking tools and illegally collect private data from targeted Nigerians.

“Unfortunately, the law that should protect the right to citizen privacy, and allow them seek redress if illegally hacked, doesn’t exist in Nigeria,” Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria said. “That’s one of the reasons why all the biometric information being obtained by banks (BVN), NIMC (NIN), etc, are unsafe and should be halted until data protection is guaranteed in Nigeria.”

If the former NSA, Sambo Dasuki, who probed these former governors had opted to prosecute them, he would have been held back by the lack of clear laws against the former governors. Nigeria’s CyberCrime law was only enacted in 2015.

A section of the law which could be deployed to punish the hacking governors prescribes a prison term of not more than two years, or a fine of N5 million or both.

“Unauthorised surveillance of individuals is ethically wrong even if our laws are fuzzy about our rights to privacy from digital intrusion,” Femi Longe, co-founder of Co-Creation Hub, argued. “Heaven knows how they have used the information obtained illegally to pervert justice and unduly influence individuals within and outside the state.”

See our earlier stories on Bayelsa state governor’s hacking expedition


INVESTIGATION: Bayelsa Governor forges End User Certificate to procure N100M hacking tools

INVESTIGATION: Bayelsa Governor distributes gifts of compromised BlackBerry phones, then hacks beneficiaries

Hacking Team, Bayelsa govt’s internet surveillance contractor, hacked

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  • Truthometer

    Jonathan allowed everything to turn upside down during his unfortunate tenure. Thank God for PMB!

    • Uncle Gaga (Bruce Wayne)

      I am not a friend to former President Jonathan but this is getting ridiculous!
      I understand how this current scandal can be traced back to his lackadaisical efforts and mood while governing, but we have to draw a line somewhere!

      You, my dear sir, have gone too far….,please retract your comment if you have any decency in you as an individual!

      • yemi

        what exactly is wrong with his comment?

        • okenwa

          Please ask them.

        • Uncle Gaga (Bruce Wayne)

          Stating that Jonathan ALLOWED everything to turn upside down suggests that he somehow was aware of the things happening around him. This implies some kind of extra ordinary intelligence attributed to Jonathan which we believe does not exist.
          We think, he surrounded himself with “yes men” that simply took advantage of his naivete…… he was not aware! he was simply being played for a dunce by those closest to him

      • Nwa _ Africa

        You seriously need help and fast………………..

        • Uncle Gaga (Bruce Wayne)

          Don’t we all sir? Don’t we all?

      • Tunsj

        Is this the real Uncle Gaga? Very disappointed that you will make such comment, but at the same time, you are entitled to your comment. I did not see anything wrong with Truthometer’s comment.

        • Uncle Gaga (Bruce Wayne)

          While we regret that we have somehow disappointed you, our stance remains unperturbed!

          Saying Jonathan ALLOWED everything to go upside down suggests he was aware. We simply do not have that belief. We think he was in way above his head…and was nver aware of the things being done! He should never have been President!

  • T-Rex

    I wish someone can help me hack into the phones of everybody connected to both Premium Times and Sahara Reporters!

    • yemi

      that is your biggest problem right?

    • Tunsj

      Really? When you stated that you want someone to help you hack into the phones of PT and SR, I can easily conclude that you hate the truth. Both the PT and SR are exposing corrupt politicians and holding their feet to fire. Go and check the meaning of INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING.

      • T-Rex

        Really? Well,i don’t need to explain anything to you.

  • Okey

    They are not the only ones. There are many of them in that devious and odious enterprise. Some of us who comment on the activities of our rulers know what we pass through in the hands of their hired internet assassins who will bombard you with “We know you,” “We know your face,” “We have your data,” “This is your phone number,” etc. These so-called “leaders” (“rulers” properly put) prefer monologue; they wouldn’t want to hear our own voice or how we feel. All that is acceptable to them is, “You must accept my own side of the story” and no more.

    They want us just to take “I have pulled down the Moon for you” which is not true. For if these rulers have actually pulled down the Moon to our own side of the Earth, there will be light. But on contrary, there has been more darkness in the last 16 years; the hospitals are bad and our schools are bad. And we have no drinkable water even though we are surrounded by rivers and oceans.

    If all is well, how come my Governor is owing my state’s civil servants many months of salaries arrears but without any of his monthly Security Votes left undrawn ? If you are so honest about your activities in government why must you stifle the views and concerns of those you claim to lead or govern ? Why must you blitzkrieg us with your own side of the matter and stifle our voices with the blackmail of hacking ?

    Hacking and media/internet harassment will not stop Nigerians from asking questions and demanding good governance. What will limit the “askings” and “demands” is Good Governance and nothing else.

    • redeem

      Another PT rubbish—————–what will an oil rich zone tap the phone numbers of people outside their states for—the most agressive people in the country are the Yorubas and Fulanis———————why have we not used the same device to monitor or track down the activities of boko haram–?—-is the south south at war—with itself-like th north east————————These are all fake stories——that only an insane mind will accept into his dirty skull-they the governors do not control the oil wells–those who are in charge of their thoughts are the fulanis—yorubas and ibos——–why would they lower themselves to the point of listening to the telephone conversations of the tripod for——-Heaven sake?———The entire story does not make sense one little bit———–The thing again is that the likes of Amaechi and Dickson do not understand Nigeria—that is why we see them behave like Jonathan–who saw himself as a Nigerian—–unaware that he is regarded more as an Ijaw man than a Nigerian–by the tripod—–The same goes for Amaechi—–He is seen as an Ibo man—-not even a rivers man——–so it would be a waste of time for them to indulge in such rubbish——–Regardless of what we may be told by PT—-the people from the old regions of Nigeria—-regard the rest of US as their slaves–hence the need for separation—-

      • Okey

        PT can’t be totally wrong. Some of us are victims of the internet hirelings of these hacking politicians.

        • burning spear

          rubbish its the media houses thatt hack into the comments of people–not governorss fromm the south south my friend——–it was not the governors from the SS that black–listed me from posting comments on sharia reporters—it was soworei—-and his theivng bribe taking editors

          • Okey

            When I said “their hirelings” I am not obvious of the fact that they operate through somebody running some platforms. Again, if you read my subsequent posting here I said “even though Premium Times slanted their narrative to make it a South-South affair and Jonathan blameworthy, this obviously ‘assassins pastime’ cuts across all shades of the political colours in our polity.”

  • Toto

    Can the tracking device be used to track BH leaders and end waste of lives going on?

  • BURNING SPEAR

    The governors from the south south have no control over their oil blocks—or resource control———–Yet the only propaganda—lie–APC seems to have perfected against them is to smear the South South–for the Fulani North and the south west—while leaving the zone infested with the ideas of boko haramic jihadist ideas———————-The greatest worry to any Nigerian is how to end th Fulani war—for which Buhari borrowed–2.1b dollars——recently————-If the story is not about how—-Jonathan stole trillions of oil revenue——then its about how dickson hacked phones of people—The party which is capable of indulging in such callous acts with the backing of the CIA is——–APC—————————-which has the support of the head of the CIA in africa Obj———————-and not nthe governors from the south south—–Amaechi is not a governor from the SS——HE WAS ONLY ADOPTED BY A CHILDLESS IKWERRE WOMAN FROM HIS YORUBA MOTHER WHO ABANDONED HIM

  • Marcus Garvey

    Only those Nigerians who reside in Aro a mental Home—–will buy into this silly article————–APC shouldnot indulge in these childish conversation with their media houses————————-instead of intiating ideas on how to move the country forward—its this tales by moon light that APC now yearns to be telling us while they steal—the nation dry———Femi Gbaja said it was Buhari who urged him on—encouraged him to fight on while at the same time pretending not to be interested in who leads the house—They are the ones to tap into the phone convesation of people——not ijaws in ghe creeks of the niger delta———who hav no drinking water—–light——or health institutions——————-

  • Guguru

    Nigeria is a banana republic. I have zero regards for anyone who claims to be a leader in Nigeria. I simply see them through my mind as criminals, even though I try very hard not to make them feel uncomfortable around me.

  • uduakomiri

    Nigerian politicians never learn anything useful. They behave like demons whose only interest is evil and never anything good. Obviously, these governors must have listened to news of the CIA/NSA wiikki leak files and the Edward Snowden revelations about US/UK industrial scale interception of internet and phone data. So bingo, these idle governors who are totally unproductive and incapable of provide basic governance suddenly became interested in hacking. An idle Nigerian governor is always more than a willing and ready tool for evil. So while teachers, civil servants, and retired pensioners were owed up to 5 months salaries (11 months in some states) these totally useless governors busied themselves spying on the long suffering citizens of their respective states. One could at least make some sense in the Americans and the British’s paranoia of spying on anyone who might harm their people because there are many countries and interest groups that as spitefully jealous of what these countries have achieved for their people, in science, medicine, engineering, education, sports, entertainment, and in fact every facet of life. One can also understand it, if governors in the NE were to buy these intercept tools at least from the perspective of the Boko Haram threat. In fact questions needs to be asked why the state governors in the North East have not considered it necessary to acquire these tools for security purposes. But it is difficult to rationalise why the SS governors are so keen on acquiring these tools given the fact that many years after they ran these spying programmes there are no visible security results. My haunch is that these governors in the SS did not purchase these tools for the purpose of security but rather to play God.

  • Okey

    They are not the only ones. There are many of them in that devious and odious enterprise. And even though Premium Times slanted their narrative to make it a South-South affair and Jonathan blameworthy, this obviously ‘assassins pastime’ cuts across all shades of the political colours in our polity. Some of us who comment on the activities of our rulers know what we pass through in the hands of their hired internet assassins who will bombard you with “We know you,” “We know your face,” “We have your data,” “This is your phone number,” etc. These so-called “leaders” (“rulers” properly put) prefer monologue; they wouldn’t want to hear our own voice or how we feel. All that is acceptable to them is, “You must accept what I say as the only true position” and no more.

    They want us just to take “I have pulled down the Moon for you” which is not true. For if these rulers have actually pulled down the Moon to our own side of the Earth, there will be light. But on contrary, there has been more darkness in the last 16 years; the hospitals are bad and our schools are bad. And we have no drinkable water even though we are surrounded by rivers and oceans.

    If all is well, how come my Governor is owing my state’s civil servants many months of salaries arrears but without any of his monthly Security Votes left undrawn ? If you are so honest about your activities in government why must you stifle the views and concerns of those you claim to lead or govern ? Why must you blitzkrieg us with your own side of the matter and stifle our voices with the blackmail of hacking ?

    Hacking and media/internet harassment will not stop Nigerians from asking questions and demanding good governance. What will limit the “askings” and “demands” is Good Governance and nothing else.

  • Marcus Garvey

    I repeat-Only those Nigerians who reside in Aro a mental Home—–will buy into this silly article————–APC should not indulge Nigerians in these childish conversations with their media houses————————-instead of initiating ideas on how to move the country forward—its this tales by moon light that APC now yearns to be telling us while they steal—the nation dry———Femi Gbaja said it was Buhari who urged him on—encouraged him to fight on while at the same time–he Buhari was pretending not to be interested in who leads the house—They are the ones who tap into the phone conversations of people——not ijaws in the creeks of the niger delta———who have no drinking water—–light——or health institutions——–since oil was discovered in the Niger delta in 1957———–

    • Ed

      You can look but you can’t see. You heard what was said but you can’t comprehend.
      Sorry for you o.

  • solomon johnson

    As the south south former governors left the office, who knows if the monitoring device has been handled over to their successor to operate in the same manner they did.

  • SamPsalm

    This is a very ambitious story – but in spite of its pretenses, this is a nothing more than a hack job. Seriously, Amaechi was collecting private data from the Command Center which the State set up at huge expense at the top of the highest building in the Rivers Secretariat – which was manned by a joint command made up of the Police, Navy and Army until Police Commissioner Mbu came and destroyed the team in his fight for GEJ? A facility to which journalists have been publicly led to severally – which helped in no small measure to bring militants to the negotiating table hence facilitating the amnesty programme, not to speak about its usefulness in advancing the work of security agencies ever since?

  • SamPsalm

    Why not accuse Amaechi also of owning his army/militia because he established a Police Training School in Rivers State – the first State Governor in Nigeria to do so ever – to teach Policemen the simple truth that when their colleagues are killed with a bullet through the back, it was not because the militants had bullet-proof juju: that it simply meant the Policemen were running away in the face of gun fire instead of aiming to shoot back at their militant assailants? A simple knowledge which enabled Nigerian Policemen to submit to a comprehensive programme under Israeli instructors in the use of guns leading to revolutionary change in the balance of ‘power’ – which forced militants to happily accept amnesty when it was offered? This is not the way to do an investigative story at all