Cyber-Security and Human Rights Violation in Nigeria.

Photo by Nahel Abdul

According to Wikipedia, Cyber Security is the protection of computer systems from the theft of or damage of their hardware and software, or electronic data, as well as from the disruption or misdirection of the services they provide.
According to Tech Target,“the goal of cyber security is to limit risk and protect IT assets from attackers with malicious intent.”
Since the Internet and its resources is utilized in almost every part of the globe, cybersecurity is needed to protect internet users from cyber-criminals. Cybercrime, also called computer crime,is the use of a computer as an instrument to further illegal ends such as committing fraud, child pornography, stealing identities and intellectual property, or violating privacy.
Nigeria as a nation is not excluded from the fight against cybersecurity as it has had its fair share of cybersecurity challenges which were not without consequences.
As a developing country, Nigeria is still struggling to improve her technology sector and convince her citizens on the essence of relying on technological innovations. Due to the incessant reports of scams ,hacks, phishing and other criminal affiliated issues reported by internet users, many especially the older generation have been thrown into a phobic state preferring rather the obsolete way of doing things — which required little or no use of the internet. This trend has created severe setback for tech related businesses that rely on the patronage of these apprehensive individuals for survival.
Cyber crime has not only crippled businesses in Nigeria but it has also dented the Nation’s image globally. A typical example is the case of email wire fraud linked to Mr Obinwanne Okeke popularly called ‘Invictus Obi’ some months ago. This particular incident raised the dust, as over 80 suspects were apprehended from information provided by Invictus and this affected Nigerians both home and abroad. Many indigenous companies, institutions and firms lost global trust in Nigerians and Nigerian owned businesses, jobs and contracts were lost as well due to national stereotyping which cost the Nigerian people. According to a report from Quartz Africa, “these costs range from increased scrutiny for visa processes, a lack of trust when attempting to do business internationally and being restricted from using international payment platforms.”

One would think that because of these challenges affecting both the economy and public image of the country, the security operatives within the country would take adequate measures to tackling internet fraud but the reverse is the case as human rights violation became the order of the day.
Ignorant and unprofessional officials harbored the perception that anyone with an internet tool (specifically a laptop ) is a suspect. This placed developers, IT personnels and other professions that rely on the internet to make a living as suspects whenever seen with laptops. There have been several reports of unlawful and unwarranted arrests and detention over the past months, consequently demoralizing individuals from active involvement in positive cyber ventures. Corruption has also played a major role as many of these operatives have oftentimes in the past accosted the citizens its meant to protect to extort money from them. The World Bank and the non-governmental group,“Transparency International” generally define corruption as, “the abuse of public office for private gain.” According to Human Rights Watch, “the police commonly round up random citizens in public places, including mass arrests at restaurants, markets, and bus stops. In some cases of blatant deception, plainclothes police officers simply masquerade as commuter minibus drivers, pick up unsuspecting passengers at bus stops, and take them at gunpoint to nearby police stations where they demand money in return for their release. The police often make little effort to veil their demand for bribes, brazenly doing so in open corridors and rarely bothering to question those in detention about any alleged crime. Those who fail to pay are often threatened and unlawfully detained, and at times sexually assaulted, tortured, or even killed in police custody. Many of these abuses are perpetrated as a means to further extort money from ordinary citizens or from fearful family members trying to secure the freedom of those detained”.
Due to the rise of cyber-crime events, the police have only gotten more brazen and corruption is now further justified under the guise of catching cyber-criminals. Any young Nigerian with an expensive gadget(an iPhone or a laptop), anyone who dresses nicely with an expensive wristwatch, anyone with dreads or tattoos is automatically dubbed a cyber-criminal and whisked away to the nearest police station. But who exactly is a cyber-criminal?

Cyber-criminals are individuals or teams of people who use technology to commit malicious activities on digital systems or networks with the intention of stealing sensitive company information or personal data, and generating profit.
According to techopedia, Cyber-criminals use computers in three broad ways:

  • Select computer as their target: These criminals attack other people’s computers to perform malicious activities, such as spreading viruses, data theft, identity theft, etc.
  • Uses computer as their weapon: They use the computer to carry out “conventional crime”, such as spam, fraud, illegal gambling, etc.
  • Uses computer as their accessory: They use the computer to save stolen or illegal data.

Cyber security is a huge problem all over the world. Developed countries have a properly structured methodology for the investigation, apprehension and arrest of suspected cyber criminals. In the United States, the FBI has a well structured department tasked with fighting cyber crime. The cyber squad in this department is specially trained to investigate computer intrusion, theft of intellectual property and personal information and online fraud. Agents are made to undergo basic cyber training, which is now required of every FBI special agent before they can even graduate from Quantico.
Computer crime task force combines the state-of-art technology, tools and resources to ascertain crime and scope. Finally, SWAT team of the agency does the apprehension of the criminal. Computer crime task force works with cyber squad to classify and place cyber criminals under these categories: coders, vendors, techies, hackers, fraudsters, hosters, cashers and leaders, thus presenting a clear picture and road map to the SWAT team for operation.
Coders- write malware, exploits, and other tools necessary to commit the crime.
Distributors or Vendors- trade and sell stolen data, and act as vouchers of the goods provided by the other specialties.
Techies- maintain the criminal infrastructure, including servers, bulletproof ISPs, and encryption.
Hackers- search for and exploit application, system, and network vulnerabilities to gain administrator or payroll access.
Fraudsters- create and deploy social engineering schemes, including phishing, spamming, and domain squatting.
Hosters- provide “safe” hosting of illicit content servers and sites, often through elaborate botnet and proxy networks.
Cashers- control drop accounts and provide those names and accounts to other criminals for a fee, and who also typically control full rings of our eighth category, money mules.
Tellers- help with transferring and laundering illicit proceeds through digital currency services and between different world currencies.
Leaders- are those that have no any technical skills at all. They’re the “people-people.” They choose the targets; choose the people they want to work each role; decide who does what, when, and where; and take care of personnel and payment issues.

Stephen R. Chabinsky, Deputy Assistant Director, Cyber Division of the FBI during his speech dated 10th of March, 2010, gave a clear picture of how an operation was carried out;
“ Not long ago, there was an online carding forum named Darkmarket. It had members worldwide who were involved in buying and selling stolen financial information, such as credit card data, login credentials, and equipment to carry out financial crimes. Darkmarket doesn’t exist anymore. Why? Because the FBI infiltrated it and brought it down. Through a two-year undercover operation led by an individual known to most users only as “Master Splyntr,” we penetrated the highest levels of this group and identified and located its leading members, which led to over 60 arrests worldwide and the prevention of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in economic loss. To the shock of criminals worldwide, Master Splyntr — who was on the site nearly everyday, participating anywhere from one hour to 15 hours a day — was a very dedicated and talented FBI special agent, of which we are proud and fortunate to have many. Still, it’s a lot of work to take down a single forum, but it shows we can succeed if we have the right people in place and the resources to apply. In other words, having hired and trained special agents who can talk the talk, and given the resources to spend enough hours online for an extended period of time, we have found that almost any cyber criminal enterprise will begin to trust us, despite having never met us face-to-face. We also learned that the communication methods used by these criminals are, to them, a social outlet as well. Just as often as they are speaking about malware, crimes, and goods for sale, they are talking about their families, their girlfriends, their vacations, and their cars. After a time, members of these forums become friends.That is where the intrinsic trust stems from. When somebody first enters as a new member, they’re considered a potential cop; a month later, they’re less of a cop; six months later, they’re a friend; a year later, they are trusted implicitly — to the extent that when an outsider anonymously told a Darkmarket participant that Master Splyntr was actually the FBI (which, as you now know, was true) all Master Splyntr had to do was deny the accusation and he was believed because he was an insider, whereas the informer was an outsider.”

Looking at the above mode of operation conducted by the agency in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, one can deduce that the cybercrime world is highly structured and arresting a cyber criminal is not a function of the look of the person/mode of dressing but an intricate, rigorous process which involves mining of information, criminal profiling and a host of other factors. The rule of law must be properly followed and even when a suspect has been arrested and confirmed to be the perpetrator of a crime, he/she still has rights which must never be violated.

Developers. Not Cyber Criminals.

Photo by Isaiah Rustad

It is no longer news in Nigeria that the police have abysmally harassed countless innocent persons who they claim to be internet fraudsters or ‘yahoo-boys’ as it’s known locally. Worst still, reports have it that several software developers happen to fall within this category of innocent persons. Other reports have also had it that some innocent persons have been maimed or even worse, killed by SARS without any frantic efforts or scrutiny to confirm if the suspected individual has actually committed any crime. The number of arrested supposed cyber-criminals in Nigeria is greater in comparison to the amount of actual cyber-criminals being arrested.

On September 28,2019, a Lagos-based software developer, ‘ Tony Astro’ revealed how SARS operatives(a division of the Nigerian police force) arrested him in Lagos and extorted him by forcing him to withdraw some of the money in his bank account. Sharing his ordeal on twitter, he narrated how the officers tagged him a yahoo boy and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t comply with their demands. His ordeal gave birth to the #StopRobbingUs hashtag campaign on twitter and his outcry led to the arrest of the officers in question. He was also promised a full refund of the money extorted from him. Unfortunately, many Nigerian youths aren’t as fortunate as Tony.
Another software developer, Idorenyin Obong working with Paystack shared a similar ordeal about being abducted by the police while returning home from work in an Uber. After being flagged down by the officers, they started a search on him and found a Mac book and an Iphone Xs and then concluded as is their custom that he was a fraudster. Even after introducing himself as a software developer and presenting his ID, they gave him no listening ear. The officers threatened to shoot him if he doesn’t offer them a million naira. Out of fear for his life, he negotiated with them and bargained to offer a hundred thousand naira which he paid before being let go.

According to the United Nation’s, ‘Human Rights Standards and Practice for the Police: Expanded Pocket Book on Human Rights for the Police’, Law enforcement officials are obliged to know, and to apply international standards for human rights. Under the Ethical and Legal Conduct in the manual, it states that;

Law enforcement officials shall at all times respect and obey the law
Law enforcement officials shall at all times fulfill the duty imposed on them by law, by serving the community and by protecting all persons against illegal acts, consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession
Law enforcement officials shall not commit any act of corruption. They shall rigorously oppose and combat all such acts
Law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons
Law enforcement officials shall report violations of those laws, codes and sets of principles which protect and promote human rights
All police action shall respect the principles of legality, necessity, non-discrimination, proportionality and humanity.
Pertaining to police investigations, the manual states that:
In investigations, the interviewing of witnesses, victims and suspects, personal searches, searches of vehicles and premises, and the interception of correspondence and communications:
Everyone has the right to security of the person
Everyone has the right to a fair trial
Everyone is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence
No one shall be subjected to unlawful attacks on his or her honour or reputation
No pressure, physical or mental, shall be exerted on suspects, witnesses or victims in attempting to obtain information
Torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment is absolutely prohibited
Furthermore concerning the arrest of an individual, the manual states that:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention
No one shall be deprived of his or her liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law
Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of the arrest, of the reasons for his or her arrest
Anyone who is arrested shall be promptly informed of any charges against him or her
Anyone who is arrested shall be brought promptly before a judicial authority
Anyone who is arrested has the right to appear before a judicial authority for the purpose of having the legality of his or her arrest or detention reviewed without delay, and shall be released if the detention is found to be unlawful
Anyone who is arrested has the right to trial within a reasonable time, or to release
Detention pending trial shall be the exception rather than the rule
All arrested or detained persons shall have access to a lawyer or other legal representative and adequate opportunity to communicate with that representative

In the stories portrayed above, we can see how the Nigerian police totally disregarded the fundamental human rights of her citizens. Not one of the laws stated above is being followed and that shows how much the system needs to be fixed and officials needs to be educated on proper policing. The use of firearms to threaten and coerce citizens into submission is against the law and the permissible circumstances for the use of firearms are stated in the handout as follows:
Firearms are to be used only in extreme circumstances
Firearms are to be used only in self-defence or defence of others against imminent threat of death or serious injury or
To prevent a particularly serious crime that involves a grave threat to life or
To arrest or prevent the escape of a person posing such a threat and who is resisting efforts to stop the threat and In every case, only when less extreme measures are insufficient
Intentionally, lethal use of force and firearms shall be permitted only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect human life.

If the Nigerian police were to follow strictly the human rights practices and citizens are treated politely, respectfully and professionally issues won’t arise on the scraping of certain divisions in the police force. For efficient and effective policing superior officers and supervisory bodies are encouraged to:

Provide training programmes on legal standards and effective scientific techniques for investigations
Establish strict supervisory procedures for the management of confidential information
Establish, in concert with relevant social agencies,victim-support mechanisms
Establish policies which limit reliance on confessions
Develop community policing strategies, enabling police to be closer to the community and therefore to information vital to the prevention and solving of crimes
Solicit technical cooperation, including, where necessary, from international technical policing programmes, on current techniques and technologies for police investigations.

To quote Bosun Tijani, founder of CcHUB, “#StopRobbingUs is a cry for help from young Nigerians, especially those in the tech industry, for the Nigerian police to stop a common practice where young people with laptops are unlawfully arrested and sometimes kidnapped by police and forced to withdraw funds from their bank accounts in order to regain their freedoms”.

About The Authors

Arigbanla John is a a tech enthusiast, philosopher, writer and software developer.

Nwafor Jude is a web developer and a writer. A lover of games, football and classical music.

Olajuwon Owoseni is a software developer and a content creator.

Ukonu Dennis is a developer, writer and an ethicist who’s on a mission to revive the Nigerian Agritech sector.

Emmanuel Linus is a Software Developer| OAP| writer|photographer and lover of classical music.

Chukwunenye Moses is a software developer interning at LearnFactory. He is also a writer and table tennis player.

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Omoyemi Arigbanla

Omoyemi Arigbanla

64 Followers

Tech enthusiast | Petroleum engineer and software developer | Philosopher | Traveler | Writer.