The most popular show among the Nigerian youths is the Big Brother Nigeria show. Housemates of both sexes are sequestered in a house with all their needs being supplied for a period of three months with all their needs being supplied. Critics contend that it is a lewd show with no value being added to the lives of the youths. These ‘impoverished’ youths spend billions of naira to keep their favourite housemates in the house with the organizers smiling home to the bank. Few Nigerian youths really know the origin of Big Brother and one isn’t surprised as history is an unpopular elective in the Nigerian educational curriculum. British satirical writer’s most prophetic work was ‘1984’ which mirrored how Big Brother monitored the lives of the then Soviet Union Citizens where they constantly lived in fear. They were even scared to think as Big Brother was so powerful that he even monitored their thoughts.
The Buhari regime has unwittingly immortalized George Orwell as an eternally relevant writer with its bid to monitor phone calls, text messages, Whatsapp and other social media accounts of Nigerians with the humongous sum of 4.87 billion naira which is part of the 895.8 billion naira supplementary budget approved by the National Assembly.
The attempted media monitoring agenda is an infringement on the fundamental human right of the right to privacy and it is tragic that this is happening in a so called democracy. Is it a priority? How will it translate into a better deal for the Man on the Clapham Omnibus?
One is not amazed as Buhari has an ugly antecedent of press muzzling. We would never forget how in 1984, his Decree 4 sent Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor to jail over a story on diplomatic postings which his government found offensive. The Twitter ban which has been in place for well over three months simply because his tweet was taken down shows not only his innate contempt for the media but his suspicion of a harmless supposed partner in progress which has led to his constant harassment and repression.
We live in extremely trying times where resources for developmental projects are scarce due to our fate being tied to the vagaries of our crude oil dependent mono economy. 4.87 billion naira is a gargantuan sum of money that can be put to good use. Imagine if it is pumped into the education sector which has never gotten the UNESCO prescribed 26% budgetary allocation, it will go a long way to preparing our young minds to be more globally competitive and help in drastically reducing the massive youth unemployment which the National Bureau of Statistics puts at over 33%. The under employment rate for which there is no official statistics may be under 50%. Our population is about 200 million and so the number of unemployed and under employed is far more than the total population of many countries combined. The remote cause of the current insecurity – most especially Boko Haram and Banditry can be traced to the collapse of our education especially in the northern part of the country. The Goodluck Ebele Jonathan led administration may have had its flaws but it tried to curb the Boko Haram insurgency with a potent counter terrorism measure by building many almajiri schools to ensure that the street urchins in the north otherwise known as almajiris had the opportunity to receive a relevant education. Why didn’t Buhari sustain that wonderful public policy which ironically had his kinsmen as the greatest beneficiaries? What about the beleaguered health sector? Health is wealth goes the age-long aphorism. We witnessed a strike by the resident doctors for well over a month with the Labour Minister uttering gibberish that the nation isn’t in short supply of medical doctors that it is not a bad idea for most to relocate abroad so as to guarantee a steady inflow of forex into the country. Buhari who promised in 2015 during his campaign to curb medical tourism has spent substantial time in the UK for his healthcare needs. The 4.87 billion naira could have been put to good use in the healthcare sector. The Plebians in the country die of preventable diseases and most of the citizens lack a health insurance with many turning into mendicants when an ailment strikes.
The implication of this media repression is dire. Sensitive information is usually exchanged on these platforms. Medical challenges, business secrets, confidential information etc get passed between couples, friends, business associates and colleagues. Unscrupulous government officials could use this information as a source of blackmail to extort money from hapless victims. Political adversaries could collude with the security agents to get dirt on their opponents and use it to frustrate their political ambitions. This unnecessary privacy intrusion would put everyone on the edge and turn the nation into a police state which is a negation of one of the core attributes of a democratic state.
I commend the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) for taking the bull by the horn in taking the draconian Buhari government to court to quash this anti-people agenda. In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1240/2021 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking “an order of perpetual injunction restraining President Buhari and any other authority, persons or group of persons from unlawfully monitoring the WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people.”
SERAP is also seeking “a declaration that any monitoring of WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages is oppressive and draconian, as it threatens and violates sections 37 and 39 of Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended]; Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and Articles 17 and 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a state party.”
The Civil Society Organisation argued that, “The plan to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages is an arbitrary interference by the administration into respect for family and private life, the home, and correspondence. It also fails to meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality. SERAP was quoted as saying that “The Buhari administration has legal obligations to protect Nigerians and other people against arbitrary interference and violations of their human rights. Monitoring of WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages would grant free rein to government agencies to conduct mass surveillance of communications of people. The mere threat of mass surveillance, even when secret, coupled with the lack of remedy, can constitute an interference with human rights, including the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”
The group went on to say that “Privacy and expression are intertwined in the digital age, with online privacy serving as a gateway to secure exercise of the freedom of opinion and expression. Therefore, targets of surveillance would suffer interference with their rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and expression whether the effort to monitor is successful or not.” Joined in the suit as Respondents are the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed. No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
Other civil society groups as well as the media should lead a mass sensitization against the evil of this proposed plan by the sinister Buhari regime which has zero respects for the citizens’ rights to keep some things private.
Public spirited individuals and well meaning Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora should come together in unison to ensure that collectively we can effectively battle this needless intrusion into our private lives and prove for the umpteenth time that good ultimately triumphs over evil.