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won self-rule status from the British colonial rulers in 1960. But, unlike past editions, the 2010 independence celebration, which was the 50th - a milestone considering the country’s checkered political history - was engulfed in the flames of deaths and controversies that shook the fabric of Africa’s most populous nation. A sad one for her fledgling democracy, Nigeria’s golden jubilee, which was elaborately organized to advertize the nation’s scanty gains of nationhood, suddenly turned into a moment of grief and mourning, spewing blood, tears and sorrow. After an explosion of twin bomb blasts near the venue of the carnival-like celebrations in the nation’s capital in Abuja, 15 innocent civilians were confirmed dead and many more maimed, including security operatives who were on hand to protect the citizenry.1 The dastardly act, an unfitting national birthday gift, did not just foul the festive air in many homes across the vast country; it also cast an unfortunately added dent on the image of a country that had had its share of bad news internationally some weeks
Though the state security service confirmed that nine people met their untimely deaths, the media reported a larger picture of casualties. Apart from the dead, the tragedy also left many passers-by maimed and wounded. See Anayochukwu Agbo, Playing Politics with Bombs, TELL Magazine, October 11, 2010; see http://www.tellng.com/ (accessed on November 6, 2010)
before the ceremonies, having been dubbed a time-bomb as a politically unstable nation.2 Pronto, the security agencies expectedly swung into action, hurling some Nigerians into detention as suspected perpetrators of the heinous crime. As the public mood ran riot during the ensuing manhunt, the stream of things changed with break-neck pace when Raymond Dokpesi, a media mogul, was arrested and grilled in connection with the unfortunate incident. His arrest and interrogation was on the strength of text messages allegedly linking him with some of the characters suspected to be the perpetrators of the bombings. Unsurprisingly in a country where ethnic rivalry or mutual distrust among her predatory political elites is a way of life, divisive political connotations, especially the usual north-south dichotomy sentiments, soon crept into a national security challenge that deserved national solidarity to unlock, thus refreshing the wound of age-old leadership acrimonies stymieing genuine development in Nigeria’s nascent democracy.
As if endued with some gift of prescience, John Campbell, former US ambassador to Nigeria, in one of his numerous acerbic commentaries on the state of affairs in Nigeria, had predicted that the forthcoming general elections in Africa’s most populous country could plunge the nation back on the brink of collapse. Though many top Nigerian public officials quickly labeled him a prophet of doom and allayed mounting fears, the aftermath of the bomb blast exposed the fragility of Nigeria’s stability and unity. Read further in John Campbell, Nigeria on the brink: what happens if the 2011 election fails? See http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/66746/john-campbell/nigeria-on-thebrink?cid=soc-twitter-in-nigeria-nigeria_on_the_brink-090910 (accessesd on November 30, 2010)
Suddenly, even without any evidence to back same, four presidential aspirants from a section of the country had teamed up to accuse the incumbent president, who hails from another section of the country, of witch-hunting one of them and, invariably, the section of the country where they all hail from.3 Although Dokpesi has since regained his freedom, other suspects in the unfolding saga are not that lucky, with some of them now answering terrorism charges in the court. Relying on text messages and voice calls that allegedly transpired between the mobile phones of those arrested, the security agencies pounced on the suspected bombers, saying there was a nexus of clandestine operations and connivance between the suspects and their financiers.4 In other words, the much-trumpeted feat of police investigations, as both plausible and doubtful as it seems, is dependent on the alleged text messages and call logs extracted from the cell phones of those fingered as masterminds of the bomb explosions.
A sectional political pressure group from the home-base of the four presidential aspirants issued an ultimatum for the sitting president to resign and even threatened to call on the National Assembly to impeach him if he failed to do as requested. Read more in Ayodele Akinkuotu, From the Editor, TELL Magazine, October 11, 2010; see http://www.tellng.com/ (accessed on November 6, 2010)
In a manner that raised the nation’s political temperature, Dokpesi, who is also director-general of campaign organization of one of the four presidential of northern Nigeria extraction contesting the presidential ticket of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party with the incumbent president, alleged persecution. http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/Home/5626699146/dokpesi_arrested_over_fridays_bomb-blast.csp or http://www.saharareporters.com/news-page/abuja-bomb-blast-ibbs-campaigndirector-raymond-dokpesi-arrested%E2%80%A6fg-threatened-nationalize (accessed on October 30, 2010)
Perhaps because of the weighty national security issues involved, there seems a conspiracy of silence on the part of rights advocacy groups as to the proprietary of a government agency invading the private sanctuary of some citizens’ mobile phones in an attempt to obtain information. But if it is open to conjectures as to whether the due process of the law was satisfied before obtaining an information that is supposed to be a private data, what is however not in doubt is the fact that the last is yet to be heard on the roiling saga, for the outcome of police efforts will certainly trigger streams of issues that may dominate national discourse. More than before, not a few will want the court to determine the fate of the detained suspects as to whether the security agencies of government have the legal power to clamp people into detention on the strength of information forcefully accessed through their mobile phones. Historically, that was not the first time there was media hoopla over information trumped into the public domain from mobile phones of citizens in the country. Before a controversial judgment was delivered in a governorship election petition in 2008, some of the judges were accused of ‘unholy’ romance with one of the parties in the protracted dispute. In fact, it was a huge national embarrassment when one of the leading weeklies published a steaming story containing the alleged call logs and text
messages between the judges and the defendants. Rather than help illuminate the haze of raging controversies, the published call logs spewed further wave of endless debates and crises that are yet to be resolved - either in the tribunal of public opinion or in the law court5. Since the mobile phone frenzy hit Africa, the tenor of criminality has changed, leaving many countries groaning under escalating mobile phone-assisted crime wave. This is made possible because between ninety seven and ninety nine per cent of mobile phone users in Africa use pre-paid phones, which make it easier to use pre-paid vouchers without any traceable or registered address6. From economic and financial crimes to armed robbery, kidnapping and terrorism, it has been insecurity galore for embattled citizens, even as it has also spelled a hectic time for law enforcement agencies that are easily out-maneuvered by social miscreants. At different times in some parts of Nigeria, many school children, relatives of political gladiators, traditional rulers, journalists, movie stars, and oil workers, mainly expatriates, have been victims to
Despite threats by one of the accused parties to sue the publishers of the magazine, no legal action was taken against the publication. Yet, the election petition that triggered the brouhaha is yet to be resolved years after. Read further in http://nm.onlinenigeria.com/templates/?a=14388 or see http://www.punchng.com/Articl.aspx?theartic=Art20080817030485 (accessed on November 28, 2010)
See a report by Reuters which was cited by the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10366235 (accessed on November 15, 2010)
kidnappers who depend on mobile phones to negotiate their ransom7. With the proliferation of cell phones in Ghana, stolen and cloned phones are fast becoming new tools for criminals, not only to conduct phone service but also using the technology to carry out illegal activities in a manner that often outwits the eagle eyes of security personnel8. It reached an alarming level recently when a leading civil society organization in Ghana cried out by lampooning the government and blaming the police for the state of insecurity in the country.9 The unpalatable story is almost the same in other West African countries like Benin, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Liberia, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Niger and Cote d’Ivoire. In fact, the spate of phone-enabled crimes became so worrisome in the country that the American embassy in Abidjan sent the following warning message to all prospective victims of
For some of reported cases of victims of kidnapping in Nigeria, see http://www.newstimeafrica.com/archives/14282 (accessed on November 16, 2010)
Expressing its concerns over the increasing frequency at which mobile phone is being used to carry out criminal acts in Ghana, the Association of Independent Mobile Phone and Credit Dealers, warned unsuspecting phone users to beware of con masters who use camera phones to snap other people’s credit cards, which allow the criminals to know the name of the card owner, card number and expiration date on the card. For more detailed description of ways con artistes use to swindle phone users in Ghana, see http://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2010/10/04/mobile-phonedealers-condemn-use-of-cell-phones-in-crimes/ (accessed on November 15, 2010)
For the state of the nation address by the Alliance for Accountable Governance, see http://www.theghanaianjournal.com/2010/11/02/afag-blames-police-for-increasinginsecurity-in-ghana/ (accessed on November 21, 2010)
fraudsters in the West African sub-region10
All telephone numbers provided will be cell phones. In Cote d’Ivoire, all cell phone numbers start with 05, 07, or 08. They do not generally provide landline telephone numbers, since these numbers can be easily traced to a physical location. Anyone in Cote d’Ivoire can easily purchase an inexpensive cell phone on a street corner and then purchase anonymously a pre-paid SIM card to operate their "business" out of this cell phone number, without ever having to provide any subscriber information. If they believe that they are being traced, identified, or near arrest, they can abandon their fake identities by tossing these pre-paid cell phone and any tools of their trade into a public trashcan and walk away, thus protecting their true identities.
Unfortunately, events in many other African states follow similar unhealthy trend, differing only in style, intensity and magnitude. What however provided the raw materials for this study is not the continent’s queer politics; it is the role handsets are accused of playing in the escalating insecurity, the modus operandi of the intelligence community in fixing the security conundrum besetting the vast region, the new response of mobile technology regulatory institutions as well as weak protections for citizens whose rights are at stake whenever there is a security risk.
See http://abidjan.usembassy.gov/art_of_scam.html (accessed on November 15, 2010)
The Heart of the Matter Properly x-rayed, the success story in the
telecommunications sector has triggered existential issues that need to engage the thinking of discerning Africans. Across many African states, there are bourgeoning calls that all mobile phone operators should register existing SIM cards - both those on prepaid and the ones on contract - in the name and address of the user, while new ones should not be activated without satisfying these conditions.11 When mobile technology was brought to the region in 1990s, African governments made the fatal mistake of not compelling the operators to demand for one form of proof of identity or the other before activating SIM cards for ecstatic users, thus robbing each country of the much-needed national database of mobile telephone users. When analog mode of telephony was in vogue, every country had a database of subscribers, even if only to ensure convenience of sending monthly bills to the moneyed few that were connected to the national grid. This singular oversight, it is argued, is what has emboldened more criminals to employ the use of prepaid phones to carry out their nefarious activities with an air of impunity, spurring more and
For further readings, see Ayantokun Oluwaseun, NCC Unveils Plans to End Kidnapping in Nigeria…Using Telecoms Devices; see http://www.tribune.com.ng/index.php/tele-info/8777-ncc-unveils-plans-toend-kidnapping-in-nigeriausing-telecoms-devices
more technology-savvy youths to further indulge in fraudulent chores by sending malicious and unsolicited text messages to other subscribers. Countries like Zimbabwe, Serra Leone, and Kenya have joined this corrective regulation bandwagon, while many others are planning to follow suit, though this is being greeted with suspicion and distrust in many countries such as Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Ghana where people fear that submitting their personal information may open them up for security surveillance.12 In Nigeria, which joined the mobile phone frenzy in 2001, the Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC, unveiled a plan recently, which entails installing equipment on every mast with the goal of achieving triangulation in order to identify and locate real geographical location of phone users, whether the handsets involved are GPS-enabled or not. Even in Ghana, Africa’s emerging model of democracy, tongues are wagging as to the legality of compelling operators to register all SIM cards13. Unlike other countries, Ghana went a step
For more on the suspicion attending registration of mobile phones, see SIM Card Registration Continues Apace. It is available at http://www.audiencescapes.org/simcard-registration--africa-security-identity-kenya-sierra-leone-zimbabwe-mobilephones; in an online debate hosted by the British Broadcasting Corporation to discuss the possibility of the new registration scheme to impinge on privacy and rights, many people voiced the fears, saying it would be abused. http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa? forumID=7447&start=30&edition=2&ttl=20101104054857. Also see http://www.audiencescapes.org/sierra-leone-SIM-cards-registration-illegalactivity-surveillance-government-NATCOM-Freetown-security (accessed on November 21, 2010)
While lampooning the federal authorities for initiating registration of handset users’
further with its plan to start a novel phone tapping system called Intelligence Signaling Management System, ISMS. Among other things, this would help Ghana monitor and track all incoming international calls, see and also read text messages and access other data on cell phones. Expectedly, the idea has drawn flaks and litigations from rights advocacy groups who consider the efforts as an illegal peep into the private affairs of citizenry.14
data, Ace Anan Ankomah, a legal practitioner in Ghana, petitioned government. He insisted that the move contravened article 18(2) of the country’s 1992 constitution, which abhors interference with the privacy of citizens’ home, property, correspondence and communication, except in accordance with the law. Read further in Ace Akomah Battles National Security over Mobile Phone Registration. http://allafrica.com/stories/200912170960.html (accessed on December 1, 2010)
In a suit instituted against the government of Ghana by the Alliance for Accountable Governance, AFAG, maintained that the planned installation of an intelligence system to monitor phone calls amounted to a breach of fundamental human rights of Ghanaians. It therefore prayed the court to declare the action ultra vires. See AFAG Sues Government over Phone Tapping. http://www.modernghana.com/news/277910/1/afag-sues-government-overphone-tapping.html (accessed on December 10, 2010)