Update: Nigerian lawmakers order immediate suspension of $40 million internet surveillance contract

Nigerian governemnet has joined the long list of governments spying its citizens online. Photo: Bello Isiaka via Facebook

The House ordered an investigation of the contract award.

The secret $40 million internet surveillance project awarded by the Nigerian government to an Israeli tech firm to spy on Nigeria’s over 47 million internet users, will violate citizens’ constitutional rights, and breach the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the House of Representatives said Thursday.

The House ordered the immediate suspension of the project on Thursday to allow three committees review its details in three weeks.

Committees on Information and Computer Technology, Human Rights, and National Security, are to conduct inquiry into the project and make its findings known within the period.

The clandestine programme, awarded to Elbit Systems, with headquarters in Haifa, will allow the government spy on citizens’ computers and Internet communications and emails under the guise of intelligence gathering and national security.

The project became public knowledge after PREMIUM TIMES worked out a veiled announcement of the contract more than a month ago, in which Elbit acknowledged securing the multimillion dollar project with an African country whose identity it refused to state.

The company got the contract without any competitive bidding as required by federal laws.

The disclosure of the project and its details, by PREMIUM TIMES, fuelled intense public backlash against the government, and angered authorities which accused Elbit Systems of breaching a confidentiality agreement as part of the contract. The firm has denied doing anything wrong.

PREMIUM TIMES has received credible information from officials involved in the deal that President Goodluck Jonathan, thoroughly embarrassed by the firm’s action, has ordered that the contract be revoked.

Officially, the government has maintained sealed lips, a departure from the often brash, and at times, aggressive responses from a coterie of government spokespersons to media and public concerns.

The House decision on Thursday, became the first formal position any arm of the government would take on the matter yet.

In a motion initiated by Ibrahim Gusau (Zamfara state), the House agreed with many Nigerians who have condemned the project as an infringement on the privacy of Nigerians. Lawmakers argued that the intelligence gathering, “may not be the solution” to the nation’s security troubles.

“This project violates the privacy and the right of every Nigerian as stipulated in the constitution and the so called intelligence gathering may not be the solution to Nigeria’s insecurity,” Mr. Gusau, who raised the matter under urgent national importance rule, said.

The House questioned the secrecy surrounding the contract award, which lawmakers agreed violated federal financial regulations relating to contract awards, as stipulated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007.

The motion was not debated to allow for investigation, but its phrasing, received an almost unanimous support from members.

Elbit said in its statement that it will take it two years to complete the project, by which time it claimed, the administration will have “a highly advanced end-to-end solution, [to] supports every stage of the intelligence process, including the collection of the data from multiple sources, databases and sensors, processing of the information, supporting intelligence personnel in the analysis and evaluation of the information and disseminating the intelligence to the intended recipient…[that] will be integrated with various data sources, including Elbit Systems’ Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) solution and Elbit Systems’ PC Surveillance Systems (PSS), an advance solution for covert intelligence gathering.”

The Jonathan administration indicated in the 2013 budget that it would procure a Wise Intelligence Network Harvest Analyzer System, Open Source Internet Monitoring System, and Personal Internet Surveillance System at a cost of N9.496 billion ($61.26 million).

With the contract awarded to Elbit for about $40 million, part of questions the House may raise concerns what becomes of the extra $21million earmarked for the project.


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