“It’s not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs … The American people have to have confidence as well….These steps are designed to make sure the American people can trust that our interests are aligned with our values.”– President Barak Obama(2013) on reassuring the American public on the American surveillance programme.
Edward Snowden was a security contractor with the American National Security Agency, NSA, who contrary to this oath of office as an employee and against the law, publicly disclosed America’s surveillance programme. The occasion of his public disclosure of American surveillance programme produced public knowledge about America’s surveillance program, and this has been used by spokespersons of the Nigerian government to defend the secret contracting of Nigeria’s surveillance programme to an Israeli private company — Elbit Security systems.
In this regard, government spokespersons that rely on the American example are trying to draw an analogy between what the American state has done legally through its parliament and what Nigeria is secretly trying to do without any law, through the backdoor. Thus the question is: are the two cases analogical?
Mr. Snowden’s public disclosure has met with criticism and defence of the American government. The American government has defended its surveillance programme on the basis that it is a pro-active preventive defence mechanism against terrorism.
No one can deny the evil nature of terrorism of any type. But the critics of the American state have raised the question of legality and ethics. In other words, is the American surveillance program lawful? Is it ethical? These questions therefore have salience for the decision of the Nigerian government to hire a foreign company, an Israeli company, Elbit, to monitor the Internet activities of Nigerians. The Nigerian government has defended its decision on same ground as the American government.
Even when the Nigerian parliament has objected to the Nigerian government’s decision after it accidentally knew of the government decision, given the secret nature of the contract to the Israeli company, we are not sure if the government of President Jonathan has complied with the Nigerian parliament’s directive that the contract be stopped.
Mr. Snowden’s action in the middle of the Elbit contract saga has emboldened the defenders of President Jonathan’s decision to contract our security to a foreign company. Some re-invigorated defenders of President Jonathan and the presidency itself have argued that if the American government could have a surveillance programme then Nigeria should.
In the light of the Snowden case, some spokespersons in the Nigerian presidency have even pointed to how “unenlightened” the Nigerian critics of the Nigerian-Elbit Security contract are. But are the Nigerian and American cases the same? In other words, are they analogical?
Before basic logic and thinking, which are universal, the American and Nigerian cases are not analogical. So the Nigerian government is being deceptive in its use of the American case to justify its illegality and secrecy driven by corrupt calculations of the Nigerian presidency. Nigerian government spokespersons have only drawn what we call a false analogy to justify its own illegality, secrecy and an unethical deal with a foreign company. This is because two cases are only analogical if the two have exactly the same features. To produce a dis-analogy in a so-called analogical claim (which defenders of the Nigerian presidency rely on) and show its falsity, one only need to produce the differences between the two — one difference might be sufficient.
So, the false analogy, which the defenders of the Nigerian-Elbit Security Surveillance programme draw with the American surveillance programme, is one of the basic lies we usually tell and revel in in telling the Nigerian story. But what are involved in any surveillance programme are rationality, law and ethics. The rationality question is: is it rational to have some surveillance programme when one is facing difficult enemies and an evil such as terrorism? The law question is: Is it lawful even if it is rational? The question about ethics is: Even if it is lawful and rational is it ethical? In secretly contracting our security to a foreign company, President Jonathan and his government never asked those questions –at least in and with the Nigerian public. Therefore the Nigerian government can never answer the questions it did not ask.
In the American surveillance programme, a law was properly passed. Second, the Americans did not hand over their security to a foreign country or foreign company. Third, President Obama has publicly had conversation with the American public on this; President Jonathan has again kept complete sealed lips on the Nigeria-Elbit Security deal. Fourth, unlike Nigerian government which is paying $40m to Elbit Security systems but has allegedly budgeted about $62m leaving an un-explained $22m, American government did not give two costs, it is not corrupt nor does it try to steal public money from its budget on its surveillance programme because this budget must go to the American citizens through their parliament.
Still following the lawful path, the American Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court takes on cases of abuse and review of surveillance actions of the American state. The court may be imperfect but there is one. Based on what Americans call their values, the surveillance law, which is the Patriot Act, sets the limits to the surveillance. This is why Americans can talk about a violation of their values –a fact President Obama alluded to in his attempt to resolve abuses of the Patriot Act-and press action.
On the contrary, President Jonathan did not engage Nigerians on rationality, law, ethics and our national “values” if we have any when he signed out our security to a foreign company. We heard about Nigeria’s surveillance programme from a foreign company. We do not have a court to check abuses. Like all Nigerian stories, we are essentially dealing with an arbitrariness in the Nigerian- Elbit Security contract issue. This is why we are not sure if today President Jonathan is not going on with the contract despite the opposition from the public and the parliament.
To put this on the rational path, President Jonathan and his security advisers must answer the following questions:-Is the Nigerian Elbit Security contract still on? Was there a bid for this contract in the first place no matter how “legally” secretive the bid is? Who introduced Elbit Security to Nigeria and President Jonathan’s security team? We need to know this in view of the strange donations we have witnessed in recent times in the country.
Is the cost of the contract $40m as officially claimed or $60m or $62m as reported? If it is $60m or $62m how did the Presidency hope to explain the difference of $20m or $22m? In huge surveillance security such as this and which is being awarded to a foreign company what are the legal mechanisms put in place to protect Nigerian “values” if we have any. Is there a law to back this action and a court to check abuses?
An engagement of these questions is the rational, legal, and ethical path. The analogical reference by defenders of Nigerian government on the secret Nigerian-Elbit Security deal to the American case is a false analogy. It must stop otherwise we are only ridiculing ourselves before basic logic which fortunately is not a Nigerian product which can be muddled and corrupted but a universal thought which is beyond the corrupt hands of the Nigerian presidency. The presidency must inform Nigerians today if we are still awarding the contract on our security to a foreign company-Elbit Security. If yes, they should tell us why.
Adeolu Ademoyo email@example.com is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
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